As some of you may know, I had my first Chinese lesson on Monday. I am learning in a small group of 4-5 students. Our teacher is my tai-chi teacher, who comes from China. I’m really excited about being a language learner again. It is not my intention to comment on the way the classes are structured. Rather, I would like to write a short post about my perception of learning a language again and how it might impact on my teaching.
I am a beginner and I had never studied Chinese before. Before starting, I learnt about thirty phrases on Memrise but that is all. So here are some ideas:
- Focusing on receptive tasks is great for a beginner class. I mean the phonetic system, distinguishing between various sounds or even words. Give simple instructions such as: “point to the sound I say.” Do more of it than you think is necessary. Only after that move on to production.
- More revision. What might seem tedious to a teacher is actually great for the student. I was not bored when going over and over the basic sounds and words. We did plenty but I felt it still wasn’t enough. And I know I probably don’t do it enough in my lessons.
- Be lean. Tech isn’t needed. We had a worsksheet each with the sound system and new words. All the tasks were pretty basic: repeat, read aloud, teacher points and students say the words, each student reads aloud, etc.
- Be very specific about pronunciation. Demonstrate. Show how and where the sound is produced. Show correct position of lips, tongue, etc. Draw a sagittal diagram if possible. Sounds are weird. I needed to hear the new word three or four times before I could even attempt to pronounce it, so model many many many more times than I do now.
- It didn’t matter what we learnt. This might sound curious, but as a beginner, I really didn’t care in what order we would learn the new words. We learnt basic words like friend, teacher, and verbs: speak, read, etc. Also numbers. I don’t teach these in my first lessons, but it didn’t matter. Also I am not very concerned about the book we’re using or the fact we are using a book. The teacher gave it to us, it may not be a perfect book to use but I feel it’s completely ok to use it.
- Memory. We studied an hour. I didn’t remember much the next day when I tried to recall the new words (shengci). I wrote them down in a Quizlet folder, studied a hundred times today and still make mistakes! Also, it helps to have a wordlist so that you can make a set on Quizlet. I might actually take time to create a specific wordlist after each class to make life easier for the students. By the way, Quizlet is great. Thoroughly recommend.
- The guilt. My next lesson is today. I haven’t had much time to study. I still haven’t read the rules in the book. It isn’t a nice feeling, so I’ll do my best to catch up (on the tram to pick up children from school etc.) I wish I had more time to write things down in my beautiful red book, which is still empty. My Czech student does this and his book is a wonder! Hopefully, mine will be too, one day, and I will be able to show it to you.
That’s it for now. Are you learning a foreign language and how does it feel?