What Can You Do with Five Chinese Classes?

  • Learning
Haiwen Lu, Upper Division Chinese Teacher

Recently, some upper grades students in the Mandarin Chinese track spent their class period interviewing Chinese-speaking teachers. Each of them interviewed two teachers in the building and asked 15 questions. Remarkably, all these students are taking Chinese level one;  they had only attended five Chinese classes before the interviews! How did they accomplish this? By using Pinyin as the tool for the interviews.

As everyone knows, learning characters is one of the biggest challenges for Chinese language learners. Every character looks different and often has multiple meanings. Pinyin is a phonetic tool to help students learn how to pronounce Mandarin Chinese. It uses the Roman alphabet and five tonal marks, usually written on the top of the Chinese characters. After learning the Pinyin system, one theoretically knows how to read all Chinese, although not the meanings. If you ask anyone who is learning Chinese as a second language, they will tell you pronouncing Pinyin accurately is harder than it looks.

This class had just learned Pinyin system. The interviews allowed students to see if they can use Pinyin in real life. Each of them was tasked with a questionnaire in Pinyin. They needed to find the native or near-native Chinese speakers in the building and ask them the questions. If they hadn’t pronounce pinyin accurately, the Chinese speaker would simply tell them, “I don’t understand.” If they spoke it accurately, they would get a very short answer in  English. The students recorded each interview, and in the recordings you can hear struggles, multiple repetition for one question and student’s cheerful sound when they get it right.

Using Pinyin to interview native Chinese speakers

By the end of the interview, all the students were so excited! They could not wait to share the experiences with each other. They were saying things like, “This is so much fun!” and, “I had so much trouble but I figured it out by the end!“ When they came back to the classroom, they compiled all the answers they’s received. With everyone’s help, they figured out the meanings of the interview questions by themselves!

Using Pinyin to interview native Chinese speakers

So what can you do with five periods of Chinese classes? You can learn Pinyin well; you can have authentic interactions with Chinese speakers; you can also figure out how to say the 15 most commonly asked questions. The most important thing, this is the first step of your journey to a fulfilling and meaningful Chinese-learning experience.

  • Language
  • Mandarin Chinese
  • Upper Division
  • Upper Grades Program