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How teachers manage themselves in Chinese classes

Chinese is one of the most difficult languages to learn. The other side of the same coin is that Chinese is also one of the most difficult languages to teach. 

After years of teaching Chinese, I have recognised that effective learning takes place in constantly changing structures. These structures are dynamic, operate on different levels, and take on different directions. They are the mechanisms that make Chinese classes engaging and influence students’ performance both inside and outside of classroom.  

However, these structures are not a given. They are created by Chinese teachers. When creating these structures, teachers automatically assign themselves a certain role to play within each structure.

Roles, structures and dynamics in Chinese language classes

In classrooms, Chinese teachers are more than teachers. They are also information flow controllers, instructors, facilitators, timekeepers, emotional supporters, classroom managers, listeners, evaluators, and so on. 

Correspondingly, in addition to Chinese learners, students’ roles are receivers, consumers, participants, contributors, creators, performers, and also listeners, evaluators, and so on.

To have effective structures in place, Chinese teachers must consciously adopt different roles throughout the lesson, sometimes more than one role at a time. Teachers’ roles in turn will determine students’ roles. And as a result, dynamic learning structures are taking place. 

Below are two examples. 

Information flow controller

Teaching Chinese is chiefly to present a certain amount of linguistic information for students. How much information is presented per lesson is critical. Therefore, information flow controller is a major role for Chinese teachers. Correspondingly, students are receivers of the information. 

If the information is too much, students will be overwhelmed. If the information is too little, students’ benefits are not maximised. If information is too extreme, most students will not be interested. If information is too conventional, most students will be bored.  

Chinese teachers need to strike a balance to make sure that students are not overwhelmed or exhausted, neither bored or distracted. 

The flow of information is from Chinese teachers to students. Teachers must exercise control over how much information is there.


Another major role for Chinese teachers is the timekeeper, when Chinese teachers set up a limited time for students to engage with each other to do a targeted exercise. 

It happens usually during class activities. Students walk around, talk to each other and complete the required tasks. 

Teachers don’t participate directly in these activities. They must keep the time, while keeping an eye on the progress of the activity and an ear for students’ performance. 

This structure is a students-to-students structure. There is no centre. The direction or the information flows from students to students. The Chinese teacher is merely an outsider, who can assist when required. 

When the time is up, or the activity is concluded, the teacher will inform students and move on to the next step.

Diverse structures bring out soft skills

It is very beneficial for Chinese teachers to bring diverse structures to classroom and to create different roles for themselves to help students learn and to engage students in learning. 

Highly engaged students not only have outstanding language skills, but also foster a set of soft skills. For example, when the teacher is only a timekeeper during a class activity, where students walk around and communicate with each other, students not only practice listening and speaking Chinese, but also building up social skills. If the class activity is to accomplish a task assigned to each group, students must collaborate with others. 

There are different kinds of class activities, including problem-solving activities, group discussions, individual oral presentations, and role plays. All activities have their unique structures. Once in a different structure, students’ learning strategies will change, so do their approaches to others. 

Through conscientiously utilise these structures, Chinese teachers can make learning Chinese more fun and more than learning a language. 

Within these structures, teachers can use specific teaching skills (Read here: The necessary Chinese teacher’s skill set) to have best lessons possible.