How to substitute for a learning tour to China

When learning Mandarin Chinese, it is beneficial to students if they can have direct contact with the language as it is used and people who use it. It is the reason that schools and parents send their students to learning tours for them to have the opportunities to communicate with native Chinese speakers, to participate cultural activities and to have wonderful field trips in historical sites. Frequent learning tours would be a great supplement to the regular Chinese classes.

The problem is that such experience comes with a hefty price tag. Air tickets, accommodations, transportations, tour guides and etc, can cost a small fortune. That limits who can go on such a tour, the length of the tour, and the frequency of the tour.

Therefore, it is in the interest of both Chinese teachers and students (and parents) if there is an alternative way to substitute for a learning tour to China. Fortunately, with enough resources, a virtual tour can be conducted without sending students thousands miles away. Even though the actual experience of being in China can not be transferred to the classrooms, students still get adequate exposures and immerse themselves in the Chinese language. 

Below are some ideas on how a virtual learning tour is organised. Our destination is Xi’an (西安), one of the coolest places in China, the resting place of the first emperor, Qin Shi Huang (秦始皇). Like a real tour, this virtual tour can take five to six days to complete.

Collecting authentic materials

The tour can start with collecting some authentic materials. With the help of internet, it is easy to find the following materials in Chinese:

  • A city map of Xi’an
  • Current weather
  • A list of hotels and their rates and facilities
  • A list of restaurants with descriptions and ratings
  • Menus from restaurants
  • Famous dishes in Xi’an
  • Informations about museums and exhibitions
  • Interesting places in Xi’an
  • Local transportation system
  • A list of movies showing
  • Currency exchange rate of RMB
  • Local newspapers and magazines
  • Local TV channels and popular shows
  • Videos made by tourists on the internet
  • A list of souvenirs people like to bring home

Planning the tour

With the information collected, students can work in small groups to plan a week-long tour. They study the authentic materials, figure out what their interests are, and write a travel itinerary in Chinese, which will be presented to the whole class. Their presentations should not be too sketchy. Detailed descriptions and rationales are required.

Students’ initiatives are encouraged. They don’t have to understand everything they find. The task at this planning stage is to learn how to respond when they are in a Chinese environment, how to negotiate with their environment, and how to survive.

Imaginary conversations with native Chinese speakers

The next task for students to do on this virtual learning tour is to write several conversations they could have with native Chinese speakers if they were in Xi’an.

Each group of students chose a few locations they will stop by during their trip, such as the hotel they plan to stay, the restaurant they plan to go, or the market they plan to visit, and write what they will say in such an environment. For example, hotel staff asks them to fill in the registration form when they are checking in, and they can ask the hotel staff for recommendations for nearby restaurants or places of special interests.  

Students can also brainstorm ideas on what kind of conversations they would strike with other diners in the restaurant, taxi drivers, or people sitting next to them during the long flight.

Conversations that students write will be largely based on the information they have collected and studied. And they are invited to act out two of their best conversations in front of the class.

Interview a native Chinese speaker

This task is for students to have a conversation with a native Chinese speaker (or speakers) who has been to Xi’an. The focus is for students to get different perspectives and to know Xi’an better. This person could be the Chinese teacher or someone the teacher helps to find.

To better prepare for this interview, students can write a list of questions which they want to ask beforehand. 

The conversation can take place either in the classroom, in the community, or on line. They can compare itineraries, and find out what this person’s opinions about certain places or food, why the choices were made, any interesting stories, any so on.

Concluding the virtual tour

Students conclude their virtual tour by reflecting on two main areas.

The first one is on Chinese language. What new words, phrases and structures they have learned during this virtual tour. Have they improved their Chinese language skills? Which part of the tour helps the most? 

The second one is on Xi’an. Which part of Xi’an they like the most? What are the differences and similarities between Xi’an and their own city? Do they have any advice for people who want to visit Xi’an?

Students write about their reflections, which will, together with all other materials they have produced, be saved for future references. If they are actually visiting Xi’an, these materials can be used again as a comparison. Or, after a few such virtual tours to different places, these materials can help them decide which city they would like to visit the most. 


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