How students get the most out of their Chinese class time

In Chinese classrooms, students are not passive. They own their success, also share the responsibilities for the failures. Students make the profession of Chinese teachers possible, and they can also make Chinese teachers really mad. The best Chinese teachers can do is to lend them a helping hand, and manage themselves well in Chinese classes.

Therefore, when students are not happy with their Chinese classes, and that is quite common given how difficult learning Chinese is, instead of quitting, they can make some changes, and help their Chinese teachers to help them. 

Here are some suggestions for them on how to get the most out of their Chinese class time.

The learning sequence

Let’s start with how students learn Chinese. For second language learners, no matter what level they are, learning Mandarin Chinese necessarily involves the following four steps:

  • Be exposed to Chinese
  • Understand its meaning
  • Understand its form
  • Practice Chinese

All teaching formulas revolve around this learning sequence. At MSL Master, April Zhang uses two series of Chinese textbooks with varied Chinese texts as input, and brings in a diversified class activities to shift students’ attention. For Chinese language schools using other textbooks, below is a commonly used teaching sequence: 

  • An introduction (Chinese teachers tell students what they are going to learn.)
  • A dialogue (Students are exposed to Chinese.)
  • Explanation (Students understand the meaning of the dialogue.)
  • Vocabulary (Students understand the meaning of words.)
  • Grammar (Students understand the form.) 
  • Exercise (Students practice Chinese using exercises provided in the textbook.)

This cycle, if Chinese teachers do not do significant adjustment, can become really boring (and difficult) after a while. This is where students begin to lose interest in learning Chinese. And this is also where students can come in and help. 

Therefore, for all Chinese learners, if unfortunately you are not happy with your Chinese classes, don’t just quit. Talk to your Chinese teachers, and find some variations to make the learning sequence more fun. Or do one of the following to keep your Chinese teachers on their toes.

Break the cycle

The best way to change the teaching sequence is to break the cycle. The simplest thing to do is to study ahead of your Chinese class. Spend some time looking up a dictionary and get the “understand its meaning” part right. With so many dictionary Apps available, it is really easy to accomplish. So your Chinese teacher does not have a lot of explain, and part of the valuable class time saved can be used to answer your questions. 

Once all your questions are cleared, have a discussion, in Chinese, about the dialogue with your teacher. For example, who are the characters in the dialogue? Which lines are interesting? Which lines can you use in real life? What will the teacher say in such kind of situation? And so on. This conversation will be very beneficial. You practice communicating in Chinese, and also get to know your teacher more. 

If you have classmates who are not so diligent as you are, help them. Become a leader. It won’t take long to tell them what you have learned before your next Chinese class, and everyone can participate in the discussion with the teacher. 

Bring some new elements to the old exercises

If the method of “Break the cycle” seems taking too much time that you do not have, there is something else you can do to change the way on how you practice Chinese in the class.

For example, if you find a pronunciation drill boring, that everyone just follows the teacher to read aloud, you can suggest a different way to practice, for example this one, a listening contest.

If you think the exercises are too repetitive, work on something different and useful, such as making sentences using the new words, and asking your teacher to correct them. 

If there are not enough listening exercises, ask your teacher to do some recording and change some written exercises into listening ones. 

Make sure use as much Chinese as possible in the class.

Have something extra

Many students have great ideas. Bring them to your Chinese classes. If you have a picture which is related to the topic, share it with your teacher and fellow students. If you know a related interesting story, try to tell it in Chinese in the class. Find ways to practice Chinese with the teacher, engage in discussions with other students, or search for additional informations. 

The only thing not to be concerned too much about is the fact that you will be making mistakes. You are learning Chinese, making mistakes will always be part of the learning process. And ask your teacher to correct some of your mistakes after the discussion is over.

Have a great time at your Chinese classes! 

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