Learning Mandarin and Class Sizes

20 May

Learning Standard Mandarin, or Chinese, is not a walk in the park. One way to make it easier is to reduce the class sizes in private language schools.

Like most instances of learning, Standard Mandarin, the lingua franca of contemporary China, is imparted in a large classroom environment. A university class typically holds no less than thirty students per teacher. This is not optimal for most students, as those that desire to learn Mandarin are most often not familiar with the tonal nature of the language or the concept of character, as opposed to an alphabet.

Education, regardless if it takes place in a public or private institution, is a service. It is something of value that is imparted by one party onto another party without goods changing hands. It is the small things that make the big difference, in life, in products and in services. The difference between a manufactured product and an experienced service is this; in manufacturing, attention to details means that every product that is produced is identical, in services attention to details means that every experience is unique. So why should we not teach in a matter that reflects the service nature of education?

The answer to this is simple. There is a great social force that comes from how we are taught as children, which is a reflection of how our parents were taught, which go back until the public school systems around the world was formed. During most of this time, and still today in the vast majority of instances, there were not, and are not, sufficient resources in place to impart education as an optimal service. However, that is not to say that there have not been instances, and still are instances, where it is not possible.

Today the world is rich. By any possible standard we are wealthy. Even the poor are rich by the standards set for most of humanities time on earth. With the advent of computing, we took another step into the future. We made the first tool that did not make manual labor simpler, but actually made thinking simpler. With all this change, there should be sufficient resources, and new types of resources to reach for an excellent service in education in more instances.

Mandarin studies should be such an area. The relative wage difference between western countries and China should allow for students to gain access to a much smaller class size than they are able to today. The benefits of a smaller class size are those that can be harnessed from more attention from the teacher. Those benefits can be divided into two categories.

The first of these categories is communication elicited by the teacher. In mandarin language studies such benefits will be mainly oriented to correction of pronunciation, which can be very difficult indeed. Not only is the Romanization of mandarin, called pinyin, in many sets of sounds, directly counter institutive. There is also an added dimension to pronunciation dealing with the pitch of words. There are four categories of words that even thought they are made up of the same letters, have different, and multiple, meanings.

The second of these categories is communication elicited by the students. This is especially interesting for language studies in general, and therefore also by the subset of Mandarin language studies, because the individual ambitions each students have. A person will be interested in a small proportion of the language that other people will not care on iota about. This interest cannot be addressed in a large class size, as it would take up much more time than a teacher has available. But in a smaller class size this interest can be addressed and used by the teacher to impart more sections of the language.

The argument is dead simple. It should be possible, to a much larger extent than is done today, for a teacher to be alone with 5 to 10 students at a time. Especially for language studies in China. Standard mandarin is difficult to learn. This action could be taken today and should be taken by private language schools, which have the resources to be able to teach in this way.

Rui Ming works for a Mandarin language Academy in Beijing that is a great option for those that want to learn mandarin in China. If you are interested in more information about the Academy’s program, please the course page: learn mandarin in China.


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