The Chinese for Families project

Jiale Zhongwen’s “Chinese for Families” started in 2008 with one small class of children aged 4 to 5 and an action research question: “How much can children with little or no Chinese language knowledge learn in a one lesson a week language program?” Almost immediately it became evident children with little or no Chinese language knowledge could make significant progress in engaging and structured classes run mostly in Mandarin with the teacher using many techniques to support comprehension.

Over the next years the program expanded to include 8 different levels, each with its own tailored program and methodologies suited to the students’ age group and prior learning. Hundreds of students passed through our classes with up to 60 concurrent students and many students staying with us for four or more years. Many teachers came to observe our classes with more than ten undertaking training and working with us as teachers. While methodologies varied across the levels, key components in all classes were 1) the extensive use of interactive and comprehensible spoken Chinese,  2) stories: listening to stories, reading stories and co-creating stories, and 3) an open ended approach to literacy development with a primary focus on reading comprehension. While we made many of our own resources, the Better Chinese curriculum played a central role in the Beginners to Intermediate Level 4 classes and students in the Chinese Text Creation classes greatly enjoyed Mandarin Companion readers. The number of classes were reduced in 2023 and in 2024 one class of Chinese Text Creation students will complete their final year, after which the project will conclude.

Looking back on the past 16 years, many tangible successes and highlights come to mind.

  • Classrooms full of laughter and lively interaction
  • Magical moments where students engaged in authentic interactions in Chinese with the teacher without conscious effort
  • The warmth and community of the Beginners and Continuers classes where parents learnt with their children and helped with craft activities
  • Countless jointly created class stories and booklets in Chinese
  • A range of creative short videos made by our Intermediate and Chinese Text Creation classes (some of which can be seen on the Jiale Zhongwen Youtube channel)
  • Primary school children reading texts in characters aloud with confidence
  • Many of our students successfully sat a range of Chinese proficiency tests (YCT 1, YCT 2, HSK 1, HSK 2, HSK 3).
  • A good number of our students successfully continued with Chinese at secondary school, in some cases skipping a number of year levels

The Jiale Zhongwen “Chinese for Families” project was also very enriching to me as the main teacher and director. Through this project I met many families of a range of backgrounds who were very keen for their children to learn Mandarin. I had the opportunity to teach the same students over a period of years and watch them grow not only in language proficiency but also as young people. Many classroom moments were pure joy, gems of deep connection, learning and laughter. I started with what I thought were ambitious learning goals only to find that the students could easily exceed them. I learnt that much more is possible than I had ever imagined. Many thanks to all the parents, students and teachers who were part of this project. It has been wonderful!