Learning Mandarin – How Relevance Matter

20 May

There are a myriad of ways that a teacher can make the difficult task of learning Mandarin easier. All these ways must to some degree address relevance. Personal content is a great example of this.

Learning Mandarin is without a doubt hard. There are many ways in which you can make it easier and most schools tackle this issue on a number of fronts. One key issue that all these methods of making it simpler must address is motivation. Learning Mandarin is not one quick pick nick. Fluency takes years and even survival Mandarin is not gained over night. To get to the point that living in China is made effortless one really needs to focus for months. So: what is the number one killer of motivation in Chinese language studies? As the student support coordinator of a Chinese language school in Beijing, China, I deal with this question on a weekly basis. It is a standing point on the agenda of all faculty meetings. The curriculum in all its complicated facets somehow always orients back to this key conundrum.

All those meetings, which have now been a weekly practice for almost a decade, though I have only been attending for about fifteen months, and all the internal research on this issue has come up with one eternal truth. For motivation to be preserved in the long and medium term, results must be achieved. That seems simple enough. But with language studies the issue is complicated. Though a student makes perpetual progress, day after day, the over all impact of the compounded acquired knowledge of a general curriculum is hard to notice for the individual student. All that is visible is the rest of the mountain that needs to still be climbed.

One solution to this problem is personalized content that addresses that needs of individuals, here people can make rapid progress in a very short time span because the content is ultra relevant. Close to 100% of personalized content specifically addresses the aspects of the journey that lay ahead for that specific student in a very meaningful way. The student can therefore almost immediately see the fantastic results that are actually being achieved.

Furthermore, such curricula address the second, almost painfully obvious, aspect of any learning process dealing with motivation as well; that of fun. It is much more fun to learn the vocabulary of topics that matter to one personally. A long time ago, for instance, when I was beginning this journey my private tutor gave me the words I needed to go diving. I was extremely easy for me to enjoy that content, as I knew I would be using it that very weekend when I was going diving.

Which brings us to another supremely beneficial aspect of personalized content, which feeds back into motivation as well. I was able to practice that terminology from the very point that it was imparted to me, and with it, I was able to practice the bread and butter vocabulary and syntax that holds the language together. The reason that this feeds back to motivation transcends the added enjoyment I felt on my diving trip because I was able to speak. It directly addressed the first issue discussed; that of showing a student the results of their studies.

The last issue relating to motivation that personal content can do great deal to solve has in one way already been discussed here; relevance. However, one aspect of relevance that was not discussed is its effect on the speed of language acquisition, even outside the scope of the previously noted element of natural conversation. The faculty meetings are also centered on this is very issue. When the brain detects relevant content being introduced it seems to hit a switch, which turns the cognitive senses to max. If a teacher is able open a students eyes to how the material at hand is directly relevant to the student’s daily life the teacher will simultaneously open the floodgates for information to literally rush in.

For these reasons it is imperative that personal content is in some way introduced to any mandarin curriculum that wants to come close to provide a optimal learning environment for the students that will eventually use it.
Rui Ming works for a Mandarin academy that is a great option for those that want to learn Mandarin. If you are interested in more information about learning Mandarin in China, please consult the website of Beijing Gateway Academy.

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