Teaching Chinese at the North Bennington Village School

As a computer science and math student, I keep thinking how the process of translating Chinese text to English is takes exact same logic when I try to convert my ideas into computer code for computers to execute. Things have never been easy for people who lives in translation, especially being a Chinese student studying in the U.S.. From the point I arrive at the U.S., the process of translation has been part of my life. I have to practice using my second language every day in order to learn, communicate and survive. Although, sometimes I can speak English as a second nature, there are still gaps for me coming into some frequently used expressions like “sleep over with,”etc. I am thinking because there still for me a very shallow understanding of the English way of thinking, I am not able to figure out what people are saying directly. Thus, when I learnt about there is an opportunity to teach Chinese to a group of 15 sixth graders, I gladly took it. This translation process makes me think about the most effective and attractive way to teach by considering the appropriateness of my content, the performance of the class, and the effectiveness of the teaching methods. I think this could be a great opportunity to fill in all such gaps by deconstructing Chinese and English culture to pieces and reassemble them for educational purpose. 

      During the very beginning of my teaching, I begin to wonder from the great many variety of Chinese culture, for which particularly is the best for me to show to the sixth graders that could not only help them learn Chinese language, but also cooperate Chinese culture into what they learn in their knowledge organically, especially most of them have never seen or heard Chinese before. My partner and I learnt from their teacher that these students are learning the ancient civilizations and most of them are wanting more from the course. Also, by the time we teach is just before halloween time, I realize teaching the traditions of Chinese festivals originated from various places to all these children with knowledge in Chinese language would be helpful for them to connect to the historical context and adapt Chinese language at the same time. 

      Therefore, we started with “泼水节”(Water-Splashing festival), a New Year celebration of “傣族”(Dai People) one of the 56 Chinese peoples. We think this is intriguing for the children because the people splashes water on each other to celebrate this festival.  We started introducing the pronunciation of “泼水节” with its Chinese Pinyin “pō shuǐ jié” (a tool that alters English letter pronunciation to achieve Chinese pronunciation). We try to have the students follow us on reading these characters in order to become familiar with how Pinyin works with Chinese characters and how this way of pronouncing Chinese is similar to how they pronounce English words. Then, we move on to introduce the origination and traditions of “Water-Splashing Festival” for them to understand how ancient Chinese look at the world and understand the pattern of seasons in order to connect with what they have learnt in their own history class. With the understanding of such historical background, the students would be more able to comprehend why Chinese characters are more like a picture rather than combinations of letters and therefore become more aware of how Chinese people think and what Chinese culture really means. During class we also teach them the stroke orders of “泼”, “水”and ”节”. For the students to practice writing all these characters. 

        Similarly, we also introduces several other Chinese festivals to these students for them to learn how Chinese people celebrate their festivals and enjoy their time-off. By building the Chinese idea of a festival in these children’s minds, I hope to make them more motivated to learn more about Chinese and Chinese culture. 

      On the other hand, american students are more active in class than Chinese and thus make me and my partner have to rethink and learn about how to introduce course materials in this entirely different and new environment because we both came from very traditional Chinese primary schools.  We begin to look at how the teaching environment in China is the same as American schools and how they are different, like how students seat, learn and cooperate with one another. 

       Back home, there are over 40 students in a normal Chinese classrooms. All students are seating in a designated spot according to their heights and sometimes based on their relationships with other kids. For instance, a Chinese teacher would like to separate two kids who usually fight each other even in class as distant from each other as possible to avoid some in-class disruptions. However, in this village school, we only have 15 students to teach and they would change their desks position according to the class. Sometimes, these students would directly walk to their friends or talk to their friends next to them in class no matter the activity or time. 

      Also, in a Chinese classroom, students tend to be much quieter and more adherent to what the teacher instruct instead of proposing some opposition or require the teacher to introduce some knowledge that is not on the book or course plan further. On the contrary, this group of 15 students are very motivated to express their own ideas in class and inform us as the teacher, what they would like to learn from us and lead to some changes in our course plan in the latter classes.  

     Furthermore, in China, students not have as much collaboration works in class as the american studetns do. I used to, as a child, usually propose works of my own and try to present and show what myself is able to do. The only memory I had about group is on each morning of a school day, our “课代表”(kè dài biǎo, class representative for a particular subject) collects each group’s homework and see who did not hand in their homework and the group people may be punished by taking scores off from their group scores. However, in an american classroom, we usually see the children working with one another in class for a particular project. 

       After looking at the similarities and differences, we try to figure out what techniques we can borrow from our past experiences and which ones’ we should adapt from what we learnt in our experience with these children in order to make our teaching more effective. 

      Based on the nature of an american classroom we made plan in teaching the students with all the contents. When we teach them the pronunciation, we try to repeat the pronunciation of the character several times whenever we learn and see these characters in the slides such that they would memorize the pronunciation better. Also, we use short chinese cartoons to introduce Chinese culture and make the students guess what is going on. By making them to work, I think they could also remember better on the knowledge of Chinese culture and how they achieve the understanding of such a culture. Furthermore, after teaching them a new character in class with special paper that people use to learn Chinese. We ask the students to compete on how to write a particular character in a latter class. The idea of competitions motivates students to remember and practice the characters on their own. 

        The teaching process shows me not only the procedure of translating one text to another, but also introduces the idea of translating my own experience into my students’ experience. The translation process wherever it happens is always a conversion between the lifetime experience of the translator and the understanding of the other language of the translator has. This means, the translator needs to use his or her own experience as a way to carry out the responsibility for the translation and the presentation of translation, especially when he or she becomes a teacher. 

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