Mandarin Studies – A Western Classroom In The East

20 May

There are many different aspects to consider when discussing the best way to teach mandarin. One of these is the mix between western and Chinese educational values.

There are many different mandarin language schools in China. Depending on the level of quality you require for one of these institutions to fit the bill the total figure varies from seventy-five to ten. Out of the top 10 of these schools there are 2 under exclusively Chinese management, 1 under western management and 7 under mixed management. It is my job to know these things because I work for one of these schools and part of my assignment is to ensure that our quality policy is up for the task of guaranteeing our students that they have indeed picked a good school.

A pattern of development is clearly emerging in long term curriculum formation that is taking the best language schools from a focus on a Chinese teaching style to a much more mixed approach, taking the best from both eastern and western educational principles. In terms of simplified juxtaposition of these forces one can note that eastern classrooms have more discipline and less interaction compared to a western classroom.

That will to many western readers seem like it puts Chinese students at a disadvantage. Cognitively and culturally, there is a clear hierarchical element in this discussion, which would seem to inhibit actual use of the language being studied. However, for language studies, as opposed to other humanities, this property is not a weakness in the same way. Western humanities are focused on discussion, models and generally creative approaches. Language studies will at some base level be a learning process that boils down to mass induction of new raw input knowledge. In this respect a language teacher with a Chinese background has far more exposure to motivational methods of imparting this type of information than most western educators.

That is not to say, in any way, that language studies are only a focus on raw input. It is true that there is very good reason for the drift from basically only Chinese educational principles to a much broader incorporation of interaction and applied knowledge in exercises, teacher training manuals and choice of course literature. The balances between these two forces were not in an optimal equilibrium for western students before. Today there is a much more tangible awareness in these facets of the service that was not there 10 years ago. What I would argue is however that the drift will not, and indeed should not; continue to such a point that there is an opposite imbalance in the system. My point is that there are clear advantages in retaining the mixed curriculum because there are key aspects of the Chinese educational philosophy that is highly suited for language studies, and other disciplines where mass memorization is necessary.

Furthermore, the advantages of retaining the Chinese teaching style, even in the long term, transcend actually just learning the language. The purpose of learning to speak mandarin is not simply to speak mandarin. Mandarin is a tool that is meant to be used for other purposes and holds very little utility in its own right. The reason that mandarin is a very useful skill is that it grants access to Chinese society in a way that a monolingual foreigner can never hope to achieve. Part of gaining that access is gaining a deeper understanding of Chinese culture and customs.

By not only being in a classroom in China, and seeing the country first hand, but by also being exposed to a Chinese classroom in a cultural sense has far reaching implications for students’ ability to assimilate the cultural context that they inhabit. This environment is the same that every person they will interact with has grown up in, received an education in, and for many students, bar those that have a home stay engagement, it is crucial as a primary source of deeper insights.

For these two reasons; the fact that a mixed curriculum has educational benefits and because of the cultural element that is involved, I believe that the drift will eventually wane off as we see a stable equilibrium form in between these two juxtapositions.

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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