Learning Mandarin In China and an Applied Curriculum

20 May

Learning Mandarin is not something that can be accomplished in a day. The process could however be simplified by some changes in how the Mandarin language is taught.

Learning Mandarin is according to popular consensus not the easiest walk in the park. There are however many ways to make it easier. One of the best ways to make learning Chinese easier is to define which section of the language that you are most likely to use first. In other words, the best way to learn Mandarin is to use the language in everyday conversation according to your own ability, to do this it is therefore prudent to begin studying the aspect of the language that you are most likely to use first.

There is however problems with this way of studying a language. It presupposes that you can control the curriculum. This is not always possible. You either need a reflexive school curriculum where you can access personalized content or an actual private tutor that dedicate the classes entirely to you. The second best thing that you can aim for is an applied curriculum. A curriculum that is focused on letting the general student use mandarin in a way that suits them. What I mean with this is of course not just a discussion in a class room, but rather a broader focus on simple to intermediate topics of conversation rather than on test results as such.

There are many topics that can be covered by such a curriculum, though actual examples of instances where it is used in reality is few and far between. The first barrier to creating this type of learning environment is locality. You need to be in an environment where Chinese is spoken. For English language studies this is different. There are many countries where English is spoken on almost native level even though there it is not the mother tongue. In, Sweden, for instance, people learn English like this everyday by simply watching TV. Almost all Swedish programming originates in The United States of America, and hence Swedish people speak the English language at a very high level.

Learning Chinese Mandarin is very different. Chinese is really only spoken in China. Sure, there are of course small sub sections of cities where Chinese people congregate, such as China Town, New York. These small blocks of cities is however not really a place where natural communication can take place. First of all, these areas are already geared towards the geographic mother tongue of the country. Everyone in China Town will speak better English that a beginner will speak Chinese. This represents friction. Secondly, these areas are small. There is just not sufficient scope of activities for a student to live and learn the language naturally within these city blocks.

The second barrier to communication being the focal point of language studies in terms of an applied curriculum is common practice. People are used to being able to give a test, receive a test and be tested regarding the results of their studies. When the focus of the studies is to illicit natural communication between students and a conducive locality, the results are difficult to pin down on paper. The learning process is much more holistic. It is a system in which China, Chinese customs and the Chinese mind matters as much as the size of the list of vocabulary that has been committed to memory. These facets of language learning is incredibly hard to pin down in a test and for this reason they are incredibly difficult to argue for in a curriculum strategy meetings for individual faculty members that support this method.

In conclusion, learning Mandarin is difficult, but it can be made easier by allowing people to explore the language in natural communication on their own terms. To do this one would need to institutionalize a rather radical method for teacher Mandarin. This process will be made harder to implement by the fact that it requires a Chinese locality, which rules out foreign schools. It is also not helped by the fact that the most salient positive by products of this method is very difficult to test, which will make direct fair comparisons with other methods hard.

Rui Ming works for a Chinese Language School that is a great option for those that want to learn Mandarin in China.

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