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Centre for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language

Institute for Chinese Studies

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Academic Report on Session One: Reading Skills
 

Project manager:

Prof Glen Dudbridge

Teaching and research team:

Ms Fang Jing (researcher)

Mr. Shio-yun Kan (academic director)

Prof Shi Guangheng (senior scholar)

Ms Song Yang (researcher)

Miss Wei Huahui (student teacher)

 

The teaching element of Session One: Reading Skills began on 9 October 2000 and finished on 1 March 2001. Both a senior scholar (Prof. Shi Guangheng) and a student teacher (Miss Wei Huahui) took part in the project during this session, Professor Shi for one month and Miss Wei throughout.

Seven students participated in Session One, and achieved more than had been expected it. The material generated in this session will be made available to the members of the British Chinese Language Teaching Seminar in September 2001.

1. Plans and preparations: CLTS involvement

2. Implementation: course structure, teaching methodology and material

3. Outcome

  1. 4. Records for Session One

5. Dissemination

6. Conclusion and further developments

 

 

  1. 1. Plans and preparations: CLTS involvement

A discussion seminar on the teaching plan for Session One was held in Oxford and attended by 14 members of the British Chinese Language Teaching Seminar (CLTS). Neither the senior scholar (Prof. Shi Guangheng) nor the student teacher (Miss Wei Huahui) could be present. The seminar discussed the teaching plan extensively, and in particular looked at issues relating to the following three areas:

1.1        Teaching plan

The original plan was to teach reading skills to beginners by the ‘unconventional’ method of using original newspaper material. The FDTL team felt that participants would not be able to reach the level required to take the sample test paper at the end of 17 weeks if conventional teaching practices were employed, and CLTS members felt that it would be difficult for them to test the new method in the context of ‘normal’ syllabus-based teaching. However, CLTS members questioned the use of newspapers when teaching complete beginners, and raised concerns about the tensions between skills-based and knowledge-based learning.  It was suggested that in order to encourage the rapid development of reading skills a preparatory period might be needed when basics such as pronunciation, character recognition and syntax could be taught. The CLTS members also advised the FDTL team to decide on strategies for coping with: the language differences between mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong; when and how to teach simplified and full-form characters; the different language styles for headlines and articles; the differences between international and national news reporting; and the differences in cultural background among the participants. The FDTL team accepted these suggestions.

1.2    Student commitment

The project was of an experimental nature and was comparatively demanding, and our participants would be volunteers from within Oxford University who already had full-time commitments. The CLTS members were not convinced that we would have full commitment from all the students, so it was suggested that some concrete recognition should be issued by the Institute for Chinese Studies to the participants who completed the course. Other potential difficulties were that some participants might put more effort into their studies than others, and some might be more linguistically gifted. It was accepted that this sort of problem might affect group progress as a whole, especially after the long Christmas vacation which was to follow the first ten weeks of the course.

1.3        Dissemination

One of the most important aims of this project is dissemination, and it had long been agreed that the material produced during these sessions should be made available to members of the CLTS. It was suggested at the September 2000 seminar that it would be useful if material were accessible in digital form, so that CLTS members could use particular elements in their own institutions.

  1. 2. Implementation: course structure, teaching methodology and material

During his stay in Oxford, Prof Shi worked on the reference material for Session One. This included: radicals; character components; character and phrase lists based on the 2,500 most frequently used characters issued by the Mainland National Language Work Committee (国家语言文字工作委员会); and the 4808 standard character list issued by the Taiwanese Ministry of Education. The results of Prof. Shi’s work showed that only 108 radicals (and components in simplified characters) were used in the first 1,600 most frequently used characters. Prof. Shi also compared mainland Chinese and Taiwanese lists of the most frequently used full-form characters. This reference material could be used for writing other teaching material.

Further discussion on teaching methodology was carried out with Prof Shi on his arrival in mid September. It was decided that though a short preparatory period was needed to help students grasp the basic requirements for learning reading skills, nevertheless original newspaper material should be used as soon as possible. It was also decided that throughout Session One the teaching material should consist of all the components required for reading skills. These skills would range from those needed for the recognition of radicals, character components, characters, and words, to those required for reading phrases, sentences and passages. It was decided that the material should also cover ‘supplementary’ skills such as Chinese pronunciation (see 2.1 below) and the use of dictionaries (see 2.2 below). The FDTL team recognised that sound had an important part to play in helping students to memorize characters and words. As a result, pinyin was introduced as a medium through which characters could be memorised, and vocabulary tapes, and tapes of the texts, were made for the participants. Other active language skills such as those needed for the formation of phrases and for syntax analysis were also added to the teaching materials. It was decided that during the first 10 weeks the main texts should be in simplified characters, and that full-form characters should only be placed on the vocabulary list during the second half of the session, after the Christmas break.

In practice it was difficult to use the complete lists produced by Prof. Shi, as the teaching material came from current newspapers. However, Prof Shi’s material was used for general reference and guidance, and to generate supplementary language exercises.

2.1  Teaching pronunciation

The original purpose of teaching pinyin in this session was not to perfect students’ pronunciation, but to help them to remember characters and words, and to use dictionaries. However, interesting learning patterns emerged during the session. The use of pinyin was stressed at the beginning of the session but was later only covered in the vocabulary lists for each lessons. Once each week in class there was a reading practice session. If a new word was encountered the teacher would explain the meaning without going into further details such as sound or stroke order. However, some students would still ask for the pronunciation of the word. Although there were only seven students, it was noticeable at the end of the Session One that those who paid more attention to the pronunciation of words remembered more vocabulary than those who did not. It also appeared that those who had not learned properly the rules of pinyin at beginning of the session had only a short-term memory for Chinese words. This might be a coincidence, or the result of superior individual linguistic talent, but it could also indicate that those who are successful at learning a language might pay more attention to pronunciation. Another very important reason for teaching pronunciation in reading skills is that there is a ‘phonetic’ component in some characters that can give an idea of how the character is pronounced. It seems that learning how to say Chinese words can truly help learner to accumulate vocabulary.

2.2 Use of dictionaries

Learning how to use dictionaries was an important component in the course. However, the FDTL team encountered many difficulties in this area. The students were taught pinyin pronunciation, how to recognise radicals and the different components of characters, and also stroke order and stroke counts. As radicals for simplified characters were not written consistently in the various dictionaries employed the students were often confused. Also, although each participant was issued with a copy of A Chinese-English Dictionary some students brought in their own dictionaries, and these had different indexing systems. Despite some confusion there were few complaints from the participants. They were philosophical and flexible, quickly learning how to identify alternative radical references and how to use different indexing systems, such as stroke numbers. Students practised dictionary use in class many times every week. They were also taught to use their reading time efficiently, and became skilled at deciding when dictionary use was necessary and when it was not. The aim of this training was to eliminate the tendency found at elementary level to think that it is necessary to know every word before the meaning can be understood.

2.3 Teaching of reading skills

Although the teaching material was based on original newspaper articles, the exercises were structured in the conventional order. They allowed students to work from word recognition, phrase formation, and sentence patterns learning to passage reading, syntactic analysis for comprehension and repetition for consolidation.

The teaching material was taken from the Internet every Friday. The following eight main topics were covered: politics, economics, international relations, health, education, culture, employment and travel. A vocabulary list and sentence patterns were prepared for each lesson, based on the selected Internet articles. New vocabulary was taught every Monday; sentence patterns and reading practice on Tuesdays and Wednesdays; and vocabulary and sentence revision on Thursdays and Fridays.

Every week we went from the smallest components of sentences and gradually worked up to the entire passage. This meant identifying character radicals and components, and then moving on to phrases, sentence patterns and passage analysis. In the first few lessons, exercises for character recognition were emphasized, but in later lessons individual characters were only given on the vocabulary lists. Explanations for the individual characters on the lists were generally based on the HSK Dictionary (published by East China Normal University 华东师范大学) and Xinhua Characters Dictionary (published by the Commercial Press). The explanations we wrote were not detailed, but were given to help students memorise the new words and build up word formation patterns.

We promoted active learning methodology in the session by encouraging students to work independently.  We asked them to practise passive reading skills and relate new material to information they had recently absorbed. This helped students to strengthen their memory of vocabulary in an active way, and to improve their ability to analyse the material. For instance, when they came cross the words 制造分裂 for the first time, they had first to work out the meaning based simply on the verbs that they already knew:造成and 分离. Then by analysing the sentence they could ascertain that分裂was the object of the verb制造.

Examples for the explanations of terms in Sentence patterns and function words were displayed in boxes so that the smaller elements of sentences could be clearly grouped. The aim of this feature was to help students to identify and analyse the functions of words and the construction of sentences. An example is given below. Here the functional components of sentences (such as subject, verb and object) are placed in the boxes in the left-hand column, so that students can analyse each component in a controlled way. A strong point of this type of analysis is that it indicates the word order of Chinese sentences: for example it is shown clearly that both and are placed before verbs. This method also highlights a very important factor in Chinese sentences that has been neglected by many text books, which is the syllabic balancing of phrases such as and , as demonstrated below.  Stacking phrases vertically makes them easier for students to digest, with the result that the full sentence at the end is not so intimidating.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

         

Notes on grammar points, and on newspaper reading techniques, were also given in the teaching material.

In order to help students to revise their vocabulary most of the sentence exercises (written by Miss Wei Huahui) were based on words they learned before. These exercises consisted of large quantities of passive skills drills such as character recognition and sentence-pattern reading, and semi-active skills such as ‘filling in the gaps with the given words’. Function words in the Reading practice passages were highlighted so that students could grasp the main sentence constructions in each article.

  1. 3. Outcome

3.1  Motivation, balance and results

Most students were fully motivated and had analytical minds. They were not attracted by the idea of having some sort of testimonial from the Institute for Chinese Studies in return for their commitment. Their participation in this session was based on the desire to learn the language for use in their research. As they saw it, the reward for them was to be able to read Chinese newspapers by the end of the 17th week. Throughout the session the students measured themselves against the level of language skill that they required for research. For instance, one student who was doing research on the Cultural Revolution brought in some passages from articles published in the People’s Daily during the mid 60s. After showing them to the tutor he translated them for homework. Some students attempted to read Chinese newspaper articles on the Internet, and one used a Chinese word processor to do extra homework. Some however did not do very much during the Christmas vacation, which meant that teaching throughout the second half of the session was difficult and results were uneven, a situation anticipated by a member of the CLTS in September 2000. Although the degree of motivation among students in this session was very high, different levels of application, and varying ways of learning the language away from class at home, meant that overall the teaching and learning environment was not like that of most UK Chinese courses at university level.

3.2 Test

The final (and only) test for Session One lasted for one and half hours and was carried out in a classroom at the Institute for Chinese Studies on 2 March 2001. The students had all been motivated, but the amount of time they had invested over the 17 weeks had varied, with the consequence that the results for this test at the end of the session differed significantly. Most students completed all the tasks in the test, apart from one who did not participate. The final paper is in appendix 4. The results are as follows.

Student / background

Sex

Age

Use of dictionary

Sentences

Passage1

Passage 2

1 Arts

M

40-45

85%

90%

70%

70%

2 Arts

M

20-30

60%

90%

60%

70%

3 Sc

F

20-30

80%

80%

70%

90%

4* Arts

F

18-25

 

 

 

 

5 Arts

M

40-45

Absent

Absent

Absent

Absent

6 Sc

F

20-30

80%

87%

70%

Not complete

7 Arts

M

20-30

80%

50%

 

 

8** Arts

M

40-50

80%

85%

50%

90%

Average***

 

30

77%

79.4%

54%

46%

* Dropped out after week 9

** Join the group after week 6

*** Student 8 not included

4. Records for Session One

4.1 Student work records

Throughout the session a detailed student work record was kept. This record showed the amount of time each student spent away from the classroom learning characters and words, and translating sentences and passages. The data was recorded daily. A student questionnaire (in appendix 4) was sent out at the end of the first ten weeks. The following table shows what the students did away from the classroom.

Student

Character/ hours

Phrases/ hours

Sentences/ hours

Passages/ hours

1

59

0.50

1.30

19.45

2

34

0

1

70.15

3

31.10

0.30

2

22.50

4*

16.20

0.30

0

8

5

46.50

0

2

20.05

6

48

1

8

17

7

27.05

2.35

1.30

15

Average

37.30

0.50

2.20

24.50

* Dropped out after week 9.

4.2 Material records

The sample lessons for this session are to be found in appendix 3.

Apart from the main teaching material texts, indexes for vocabulary (approximately 800 words) and sentence patterns were produced during the session. Much of the vocabulary consisted of the most commonly-used words from the HSK (Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi) list. However, it was impossible to use only the Grade A and B (甲级和乙级常用词) vocabulary from the HSK list, as the reading texts came from the Internet.

4.3    Comments made by other relevant individuals

The student teacher, Miss Wei Huahui, wrote a report on her teaching experiences during Session One. See appendix 5 for further details.

  1. 5. Dissemination

All information and material produced and issued during this session will be made available on the CTCFL or CLTS website to all CLTS members by the time of the next CLTS seminar in September 2001. The FDTL team would welcome comments on the sample materials and the report from CLTS members before the finalised materials are made public. Please send any comments to Mr. Shio-yun Kan, Centre for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language, Institute for Chinese Studies, Walton Street, Oxford OX1 2HG or send a email to kan@server.orient.ox.ac.uk. The deadline for comments is 31 May 2001.

  1. 6. Conclusion and future developments

Although Session One: Reading Skills has finished and has more or less achieved what was expected, there are still lessons to be learned. For instance, the main texts are based on current affairs and are not intended for long-term use, so they will have to be re-selected after a few years. The method of producing teaching material used during Session One was labour intensive and is not economical for use by other language teachers in normal teaching circumstances. The general emphasis during this session was very much on teaching, and not on learning (for example workshop formats were not employed). However, the sentence pattern and function words index can be used as a starting point for building up an Internet-based reference archive for writing teaching notes, and while CLTS members will have access to this it will in turn benefit from the contributions of all CLTS language teachers.