Last Sunday was DDâ€™s first day in Chinese school. She had three kindergarten classes back to back in one afternoon, each 45 minutes. I was a little bit concerned whether she could survive a total of approximately 3 hours in one sitting.
It turned out my concern was completely needless. She said â€œthe time flies fastâ€ at the end of the class and told us she couldnâ€™t wait to go back to Chinese school. We were extremely happy to hear that.
Last Sunday was also my first day to teach in Chinese school (see Going to Chinese school together). Before the class, I had the same concern whether first-graders in my class could have the patience to learn a foreign language for 3 hours. It seemed to be ok. At least kids in my class didnâ€™t count the minutes for the break. I even extended the class for an extra ten minutes. Nobody was complaining.
When the class was over, everyone shouted â€œzaijian (goodbye)â€, the Chinese words they just learned.
I got this teaching job because of my experience of teaching my own children Chinese as a minority language.
But after the first class, I realized it is different to teach children a second language as a parent vs. a teacher.
First, learners are different. My children were exposed to Chinese since their birth. â€œFor these children, then, second-language acquisition is not a process of discovering what language is, but rather of discovering what this language isâ€ (Tabors, 1997, p. 12).
They pick up the vocabulary and the grammatical patterns in a similar way as they acquire English, the community language. To them, all I need to do, as a Chinese parent, is simply speaking Chinese to them. I donâ€™t need to translate or explain. I donâ€™t need to make a conscious effort to teach them.
On the contrary, most of my students come from non-Chinese families. They have established English as their first language. As their Chinese teacher, I need to make a conscious effort and work hard to instruct with the help of English, their first language.
Next, methodologies are different. Some methods that work for my children may not work for my students. For an example, I am a big fan of using lullabies, nursery rhythms, and childrenâ€™s songs to teach kids languages. They are playful (e.g. â€œRub-a-dub-dub, three men in a tubâ€,) and are easy to remember.
They also help babies build phonological awareness and sensitivityâ€”the ability to hear the breakdown of sounds within words and to diagnose rhythms and patterns of languages. As he grows, learning the rhymes himself will help him expand vocabulary, learn number skills and get confidence to express himself through speech (see How to help babies acquire languages? (Method 2).
However, when I played the song in the classroom, it didnâ€™t work as the way I had expected. Two boys put handsÂ against their ears and refused to listen. I immediately realized that I needed to find a different way to grasp their attention.
So I divided the whole class into two groups and let the two groups compete with each other. Group members need to either to sing songs, practice Chinese dialogue or write Chinese characters correctly to score stars for their group.
This method worked for students, especially boys. I was so amazed to see two boys writing down Chinese characters nihao (hello) and xiexie (thank you) correctly after such a short time of learning. These Chinese characters are rather hard to memorize.
Nevertheless, there is one thing common between a Chinese parent and a Chinese teacher, which is:Â doing the best to giveÂ my biggest support, no matter to my students or to my children.
References: Tabors, P. (1997). One child, two languages. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes. (ERIC Document No. ED405987)
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