Chinese: A great language for Australian young people to learn

Jude at the last Chinese Text Creation class in 2019

Jude and Lewis have been regular students at our Chinese for Families classes for a number of years. Many thanks to their grandfather Larry Owens Emeritus Professor of Education from Flinders University  (known to us as Larry) for writing this review of our classes.

I became interested in Chinese language as a result of work commitments over many years in Beijing and Shanghai. As Australia’s biggest trading partner, China is of immense importance to us and a greater understanding of Chinese language and culture is critical to us now and in the future. My oldest grandson, Jude (now 12 years old) was being home-schooled from his reception year and he needed to study a language as a part of his approved Australian curriculum. Fortunately, we found Belinda’s “Chinese for Families” (Jiale Zhongwen) which offered Chinese after school hours and on weekends. Belinda is a highly experienced teacher of Chinese language and she marries together an advanced theoretical knowledge of language learning with highly engaging classroom methodologies. With the help of the “Better Chinese” resources, Belinda and her staff provided an attractive teaching programme so that both my grandsons (the younger one, Lewis, now 8, also joined the classes) really looked forward to the weekly lessons. In fact, both boys have thrived, continually developing their reading, writing, listening and speaking skills. Jude is progressing through the Hanban official Chinese proficiency examinations, having achieved over 90% in both HSK1 and HSK2 (standardized tests of Chinese language achievement for non-native speakers). Lewis will begin these examinations in 2020. I can certainly recommend Belinda’s Chinese language programmes offered by her “Chinese for Families” classes.

Larry Owens, PhD, Emeritus Professor of Education, Flinders University

Teaching Chinese in the sunshine – finding the keys to unlocking students’ potential

This blog post is about the learning journey of teachers. In particular it is about my learning journey at Chinese for Families , now in its twelfth year of operation. Many thanks to all who have supported me in this journey.

There is a famous Chinese idiom about a frog who lives in a well. This frog thinks the sky is only the size of the mouth of the well because that is all he has ever seen. When a passing bird tries to tell him about the vast world outside, he angrily rejects her words as rubbish. To me, this metaphor is very relevant to the field of Chinese as an additional language education.

As a practicing teacher, I see that a significant number of key players have already given up before the students even walk into the classroom. Chinese is ‘too hard’, students are ‘unmotivated’, it is ‘not possible’ or even more sadly, it is ‘not important’ or children ‘shouldn’t have to learn it’. Without belief, purpose or a sense of the importance of our work we cannot teach effectively, while without effective teaching most children will not learn.

An adapted version of this idiom “Viewing the sky from the bottom of a well” appears in AI Story Time

In fact, we do not yet fully know what is possible. The question of how best to present this very different language with a highly memory based written system to children growing up in the Western educational environment is still not fully explored or understood, although there is a small but growing body of research on the topic. To learn more, we need to be willing to try different approaches and leave the safety of the well of past practice. To have the courage to explore, we need to believe in the children’s learning potential and in the importance of our work.
I started a one lesson a week program, Chinese for Families Adelaide, in 2008 with a belief that it was possible for children to learn more than was common in once a week primary language programs and a desire to find out how to do it. I wanted them to develop a sense of the language and give them a foundation that would set them up for success in secondary school. Read more