Confucius Institute helps parents and teachers engage Mandarin learners

August 16 / 185

Learning Mandarin. Image: Flickr
Learning Mandarin. Image: Flickr

Chinese is a difficult language to master, but is also increasingly important in today’s interconnected world. To discuss the best ways to support students from non-Chinese backgrounds when learning Chinese, the Confucius Institute at the University held its first parents forum last month.

Julia Gong, the Senior Associate Director of the Confucius Institute believes the event to be among the first of its kind in Australia. It focused on how parents of non-background learners of Chinese can foster a healthy learning environment for their children.

“There was a huge amount of interest, with participants viewing the event via live stream from regional Victoria, interstate and we even had a participant from South Africa,” she says.

“We are proud to be at the forefront of Chinese language learning and plans are already underway for a follow up event given the amount of interest from parents as well as Chinese teachers.”

Xu Jixing, President of the Chinese Language Teachers’ Association of Victoria knows that learning Chinese is getting more popular. However retaining students learning Chinese to the VCE level is a challenge, which prompted the organisation of the forum.

“Many students share the belief that the Chinese language is too hard to learn”, says Mr Xu.

Alexander McLeod, Head of Languages at Northcote High School, explains that one of the hardest things about learning Chinese is the lack of similar sounding vocabulary, the need to differentiate and produce tone, and remembering characters.

“To be successful, students need a genuine interest in learning the language and discovering the culture,” he says. “I have yet to meet a very successful Chinese language learner who is doing it just to get a job.”

He recommends a learner listen to speech that is about 95 per cent comprehended, and use this as a reference for practicing tone combinations, natural rhythm and emphasis.

“About 80 per cent of Chinese words are made up of two characters. It helps to break each character down into recognisable components.”

Mr McLeod uses the example of the word diàn năo: năo means brain. Together diàn năo means computer.

One of his tips for learning new characters is frequency, even doodling: “A lot of it is muscle memory,” he says.

John Tuckfield, a University of Melbourne PhD candidate and Director of Teaching and Learning at Camberwell Grammar School, believes that “now is a really important time to learn a language”.

“The more you understand a language the more insight you get into a culture, and the more you understand how people think and how they view the world,” Mr. Tuckfield says.

He says with the increase in job automation, interpersonal skills will be most valued by tomorrow’s employers. 

“Understanding language is key to jobs in the 21st century.” Mr Tuckfield says.

“Governments and industries are aware of this but the message that ‘English is not enough’ hasn’t made it through the public’s consciousness.

“Australian parents are quite convinced languages are important, but not yet convinced languages are necessary.  It’s that gap between importance and necessity that we as a country should start bridging,” Mr Tuckfield says.

Story by Gillian Aeria.



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