For the past five months I've been spending four hours a week teaching Chinese to a fellow American living here. We first started our classes working on improving tones and pronunciation (at their request). With that as the focus, we spent a lot of the first few months reading from a book, and paying close attention to how sentences (and tones) flow in a Chinese. Because my student wanted to be better understood when speaking with locals I was a ruthless teacher (sort of a tone Nazi), pointing out every mistake that they made, and often making them start back from the beginning of the sentence over and over again.
This type of teaching method is something I would never do in a traditional classroom, but this was 發音課, so the rules were different. After the first month I started to see huge improvements in my student, and a sort of self-awareness in where their mistakes often occur. I chose this type of teaching method because my student is a working professional who doesn't have time to taking more traditional style classes here in Taiwan. When they interact with locals, the biggest issue is lack of feedback and error correction (on many levels).
Once we started to see improvement in pronunciation, we both felt it was time to move on to a less formal (and less strict) teaching style. We have spent much of the last few months simply having conversation class. For two hours I play the role the listener, my only request to my student has been that, no matter what, they never speak English during those two hour session. My main goal was to get my student thinking in Chinese, and using the vocabulary they already knew to talk around subjects (or objects) that they didn't think they could say in Chinese.
My role as listener is twofold. If my student was able to talk around a word that they could not express, I would provide them the word, also writing it in their study notebook. My other goal is to fix any mistakes that would cause confusion or misunderstanding among native speakers. Because I am also a native speaker of English, I can easily understand what they are saying (when mistakes happen), and therefore I can correct them. Every time a grammar mistake (or pronunciation mistake) occurs, rather than fix it immediately, I write it in the study notebook. Once my student finishes their thought, I can take the time to explain the mistake and how the sentence should be said, also only using Chinese. Since the mistake (and correction) are also in the notebook, it is a reference point for my student to look back on (and hopefully) fix before our next meeting.
We have used this teaching/ learning style for quite some time now (about three months) but I have started to notice a small problem, while my students sense of Chinese grammar is getting better, the rate at which they are acquiring new vocabulary is much less than a student using a traditional textbook. For a while I didn't know how to approach this dilemma. I didn't want to go back to using a traditional textbook, since the material is too far removed from my students needs in the real world, but I also didn't want to spend the whole class talking to my student, and having them stop me every time I said a word they didn't understand.
We recently found a pretty good solution, that has also made our class time a lot more fun... and we have once again restructured our classes to include a wider range of materials, situations, and teaching styles. Now, instead of simply sitting in a coffee shop for four hours a week, or lessons have begun rotating between a few activities:
- Exploring Taipei and the surrounding areas (going anywhere my student wants to take me)
- Using 漫畫 as teaching materials and as a way of studying new vocabulary and grammatical phrases
- Playing an MMORPG in a Internet Cafe with other Taiwanese gamers.
We just might have found the primer for taking my students Chinese to the next level!