Where Are We and How Do We Get There?

  • Learning
Spencer Baron, Upper Division Chinese Teacher

In every Lonely Planet guidebook you will find some survival phrases for the language of the country you plan to visit. The idioms they teach are always very limited, but very valuable—phrases like, “Where is the bathroom?” and “How much is this?” “How do I get to ______?” I’ve always wondered about the questions that appear in those books. How can you learn that without knowing how to understand the answer?

Learning to ask and answer directional questions is viewed by some as the most important skill needed to survive abroad. If you lose your way, you need to understand someone when they give you an answer more complex than a finger pointing in a general direction. If applied in context, learning these skills can prove to be quite fun.

Practicing the Total Physical Response method

Practicing the total physical response method

My Chinese 3 class began by studying how to locate things in relation to other things in space. For example: “Ben is sitting on Misha’s right side” or “Mia is standing between Liza and Orion.” We also learned the grammatical structure for describing something as far or close to something else. Using the total physical response method, we stood up and chose others in the room by locating where they are in relation to other objects and people. This skill is particularly useful when looking at a map or spotting something far away.

Students learned the grammar and vocabulary for turning and walking toward things and went through various exercises in locating things and placing them in their proper places. When they seemed ready, we applied them into a fun and engaging activity. Separating tables like a grid to represent different streets and intersections, and labeling each table as a different landmark with a paper sign, students paired up and were dispersed randomly throughout the room among the grid.

One student kept their eyes closed and the other had to guide them from where they stood to a destination I gave them on a slip of paper. With one student acting as the eyes of the other, they successfully guided the students with their eyes closed to the proper places. By the third partner switch, students were able to smoothly guide their partners with only their words. They had internalized a skill by practically applying it. After that, students were able to speak out relatively detailed directions on a New York City map. Learning is always more easily accessed through an experience; all the more so with a fun one.

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