IH Journal of Education and Development

IH Journal Issues:

Building A Bridge To China

Building a bridge to China (by Peng Su and Stefano Maraessa)
It’s well known that other countries interest in China has been increasing in the past few years. China held the last Olympic games very successfully, both in the competitions and in the organisation. Its economy has been growing considerably, relationships with foreign countries have been enhanced, more and more companies and individuals have been coming to China or planning to do so. More and more people are interested in Chinese culture (e.g. tai ji, martial arts, feng shui). Also, the number of tourists coming to China is huge, due to better flight connections, the relatively cheap cost of living and the great variety of landscapes: the highest mountains in the world, the deserts, the bamboo forests – just to mention a few.
China is becoming more and more appealing to people around the world and this has led to a growing interest in its language! More and more people want to learn Chinese for different purposes, like business or travel. A large number of universities are starting Chinese courses. It goes without saying that the best way to learn a language is to go to where that language is spoken and thus to be exposed to it every day through the media, people, culture and way of life.
People are fascinated by Chinese characters and their origins, strokes and development. After having studied in China, many people go back to their schools or universities and feel disappointed by the experience. If you ask people why, they always say that Chinese is very difficult.
Well, we strongly believe that although Chinese is not an easy language to learn it doesn’t mean that we can’t teach it in a communicative way.
Before making our suggestions, I would like to say a few words about the Chinese school system: in Chinese schools silence is golden and the role of the teacher is extremely important and he/she is highly respected. This means that in class students can only repeat what the teacher says and can never question him/her. Unfortunately, also in language lessons students do not have any chance to talk with each other using L2. These students will one day become future teachers of Chinese and, as with every one of us, will take their learning experiences into their classrooms. Thus a lot of the dreaded TTT (teacher talking time), repetition (both oral and written), boring lessons and a complete absence of interaction and communication are the results.
Here at IH Xi’an we have tried to improve the conditions of those students who choose to study Chinese, either in their countries and/or in China and of the teachers as well (it goes without saying that happy students also mean happy teachers).
What we truly believe at IH Xi’an is that having good teachers is the core of good learning; that is why we run weekly teacher training workshops with our Chinese teachers. Our Chinese teachers observe either each other or foreign teachers at least once a month.
As this system has been working very well for us, we would like to share our ideas with other IH schools. We are setting up a teacher trainer course for Chinese teachers.

Teacher Training Course

On July 7th 2008 IH Xi’an started the first IH teacher trainer course for Chinese as a foreign language. Four people ran it: Olga Goncharova (the main tutor, from IH Moscow), Stefano Maraessa (DoS at IH Xi’an), Yang Teng (Chinese teacher at IH Xi’an) and Udo Müller (German teacher and expert in sinology). The course was designed in accordance with the other IH Teacher Training courses and syllabuses. It was supervised by Shaun Wilden (IH Teacher Trainer Coordinator) who gave us many useful suggestions.
Olga and Stefano were the main tutors and ran the input sessions, lesson preparation, observations and feedback sessions. Yang Teng gave a few classes on Chinese language systems (phonology, grammar, vocabulary and functional language). Udo, being an expert of Chinese characters, could give an insight into the way people, unfamiliar with this script, approach it. His ideas, which are less mnemonic and more rational, helped the trainees in finding new ways to teach the characters.
There were 6 trainees on the course, all Chinese with some or no background in teaching Chinese to foreigners.
From the point of view of the tutors and the trainees the course went well; by the end of the course both the tutors and trainees were highly satisfied with it and the students appreciated their last lessons and agreed that the trainees had improved a lot.
We also experienced some problems:
  • Firstly, the language gap: the main tutor does not speak Chinese so at times English examples did not find a good equivalent in Chinese. We believe that there are only few (if any) Chinese teachers qualified to run CELTA courses. So we had to find a compromise that could work. However, further discussion is needed on this issue.
  • Second, the big difference between the communicative approach and the Chinese teaching system: the trainees expected, at least at the beginning, to be taught, to listen and learn and not to participate and interact. For example, eliciting from them was quite difficult. It took quite some time to get them used to it.
In February 2009 we ran a second teacher training course. This course was in German. As our school has a special relationship with IH Freiburg, we will have one of their teacher trainers to run the course. Our aim is to devise teacher training courses for Chinese teachers in different languages so that all IH schools can use it in the language they need. Our long-term aim is to have these courses in Chinese only.
As trainees need to practise teaching, a further part of the teacher training course could be to provide internships in the school. If other IH schools are interested in having trained Chinese teachers, we can suggest that schools hire the trainees, with a trial period and intern wage. We think this solution might appeal to both IH Schools and trainees – the former because they will have good teachers with our reference and the latter because they will be able to start teaching in a stimulating environment. At this stage, this is just an idea which needs further organisation and the agreement of IHWO.

Special projects

People who come to our school mainly have three wishes: to learn the language, to get to know the culture and to travel.
At IH Xi’an we have found a way to conjugate these three wishes into two projects:
1) Learn Chinese along the Silk road
2) Learn Chinese along the Yangtze river
Both programmes start in Xi’an. For one week the participants will study Chinese in the morning and go sightseeing in the afternoon. After this initial week, they will start their journey.
1) Silk Road
The participants travel towards Urumqi in the far west of China passing through Lanzhou, Xining, Dunhuang, Jiayuguan, Turpan, just to mention a few places. They see the biggest salt lake in China, the western starting point of the Great Wall and vineyards surrounded by the desert.
2) Yangtze River
This journey takes the participants on a cruise along the river, stopping at the most interesting places.
Both journeys involve Chinese lessons and thus connect language learning with travelling. More details of this programme can be found shortly on our website www.ihxian.com
Finally I would like to highlight that we at IH Xi’an are committed to innovation and to cooperating with other IH schools. We believe that this benefits our competitiveness.
Author’s Bio:
SU Peng has been the director of IH Xi’an for about 3 years. After taking a BA in Medicine, he moved to Germany where he lived for four years. There he studied Psychology and made the acquaintance of the staff at IH Freiburg. From this friendship came the idea of building a school in Xi’an (world-famous for the Terracotta Warriors). It is now a wonderful reality and it is the IH coordinator school for the Chinese language. It also aims at being the first IH teacher training centre for Chinese teachers. He is young but with lots of ideas that he wants to share with everyone interested in cooperating.

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