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Friday, March 2, 2012

Teaching in Taiwan Part 1: The Past Five Months

I had originally intended to spend some time talking about my impression of using 漫畫 as a teaching material for my student, but I thought that instead I would use this post to catch up on what has been going on for the past five months of teaching. Instead, the post on 漫畫 will be a follow up.

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:
  1. Exploring Taipei and the surrounding areas (going anywhere my student wants to take me)
  2. Using 漫畫 as teaching materials and as a way of studying new vocabulary and grammatical phrases
  3. Playing an MMORPG in a Internet Cafe with other Taiwanese gamers. 
The first two have been a huge success (more on that in a follow-up post), and the third is an idea I came up with the other night. We are having our first trial run this afternoon at a local Internet Cafe... although I already know it will be a amazing. I told my student that we couldn't go and play video games (and learn Chinese) unless they did some background research (i.e. homework) first. Two nights ago I got an email from my student with about 20 vocabulary words useful for gaming, along with a list of about five games worth checking out.

We just might have found the primer for taking my students Chinese to the next level!

6 comments:

  1. "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"

    This approach has been very effective for me, and it's the reason I selected my particular teachers. I met up with others who would stop me mid-sentence to point out my mistake and it was infuriating since I never got to properly practice the language or get any kind of flow in it, and I felt like it was too traditional without using the language for genuine communication.

    Keep up the good work! Glad to see your classes evolve with the students' need! I generally ditch one teacher and move to another one because they stick to the same technique, which could have been effective for a lower level but isn't as helpful at a higher one.

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    1. I think a good teacher should constantly adjust their teaching style to fit a students (changing) needs. Anyone who doesn't shouldn't be worth the students time. I had teachers like you've mentioned before as well, and they just piss me off. From the progress you've been making in Chinese I'd say you have found some great teachers to help you with the challenge.

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  2. Could you move to Guangzhou and be my teacher? I've never had one on one lessons, but if I would start them now, I would like to have a teacher just like you. Your teaching method sounds very effective and fun at the same time.

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    1. Thanks for the kind words, Sara. I think the most important think for finding a one-on-one teacher is telling them exactly what you want to learn and how you want to learn it. I think the great think about my student is that they let me try out whatever I want, the second something doesn't work we try to move on and try something else. If I ever make my way to Guangzhou I'll be sure to let you know!

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  3. Really enjoying your more liberal autonomous teaching method. This is the way that language teaching should go towards. Keep us updated (especially on the gaming one!)

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    1. Thanks! He had our first "gaming" lesson today. Still to early to tell how effective it will be, if my student doesn't know how to say (and read) left mouse click, press x button on the keyboard, and how to sign up for an account in Chinese, then they weren't paying attention for three hours of extreme repetition. I'll try and get a few thoughts down on the experience in the next few days.

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