Celebrating National days – 国庆节快乐!

October 1, 2013

Today (October 1st) is China’s National Day, marking the founding of the People’s Republic of China.  It will be the start of a week long holiday, the so-called Golden week, when many Chinese go travelling.  The BBC learning zone broadband has an excellent short  introduction to National Day in China and customs associated with it. It’s perfect for showing to beginners as it includes basic greetings.

Talking this video clip as a starting point there are many ways in which the theme of National day could be exploited by linking it to the following contexts:

  • Significant dates, both for and individual and a communities (historical events, birthdays etc)
  • The significance of national identity – flags and anthems
  • Customs and traditions, such as dance
  • Travel and holidays – Golden week is a time when many Chinese go on holiday
  • Food – family get-togethers and meals

For more advanced learners the Confucius Institute online has a couple of dialogues discussing National day and they could even look at the words of the National anthem.


Activities for Chinese New Year – Papercutting

February 10, 2013

Paper cutting charactersThis week I’m planning to do some paper cutting activities with the Chinese club I run. This traditional handicraft is particularly associated with festivals such as Chinese New Year (celebrated today), both as gifts and as decorations.  As ever I will show a video first and there are any number to choose from;  this one from Hello China gives some information about the origins of paper cutting and the cultural significance of them.

Then there are a range of videos on Youtube which demonstrate how to do papercutting.  This one shows some beautiful examples of some paper cuts before demonstrating a very straightforward and easy pattern to follow.   Chinese Papercutting HQ has a wholes series of videos starting with a general introduction to papercutting, followed by specific videos such as the basic equipment needed and simple designs to cut out, such as the classic double happiness character. For the more ambitious there is the Monkey pattern and the Butterfly pattern.

Dragon boat festival – 端午节

June 24, 2012

This weekend has seen the Dragon boat festival observed amongst Chinese communities so I’ll be looking at that with my Chinese club this week.

There are a couple of good videos which I’ll probably be using to introduce the topic:  this one, produced by Unesco gives a comprehensive introduction to the festival, its origins and customs.  There are some good clips showing families and communities observing traditional folk customs and it gives a good sense of the importance of the festival in Chinese culture and heritage.

This other one recounts the story of 屈原Qū Yuán whose death in the Mìluó  river was the origin of the Dragon boat festival.  It also shows some of the traditions associated with dragon boat races such as painting the dragon’s eye before the race and the making of zongzi.

I may get the pupils to make a paper dragon boat and this link provides a template for a model.

Getting ready for Chinese New Year

January 16, 2012

Chinese New Year (春节 Chūn Jié or Spring Festival) is almost upon us – Monday January 23rd.  This year is the year of the dragon (龙年 lóngnián), the fifth animal of the Chinese zodiac.

I was looking for a suitable video of the story to show the pupils in my Mandarin club and came across this version in English which is attractively illustrated.

I also found a song about the animals of the Chinese zodiac (十二生肖歌  shí’èrshēngxiào gē).  It has a catchy refrain in which the Chinese for the animals of the zodiac are repeated in order – useful for fixing this in the mind! This version is in pinyin and is relatively easy to follow, although the last word doesn’t match with what is sung.  This other version is slower, has images of the animals and the meaning of the song, but otherwise is just in characters, so not so suitable on its own for my KS3 club.  However, I’ve done a transcription in characters and pinyin for use with beginners.

The language of love

February 14, 2011

“I like”, “I love” – the stuff of expressing simple opinions and of course Valentine’s Day.  This can be a good opportunity to recycle a lot of high frequency vocabulary and structures within a different context.  So, not only loving and liking, but also giving, receiving and buying in past, present and future, and  using pronouns (just think about the agreement with the preceding direct object in French, or the word order rules with pronouns and nouns in German – DANPAD;  dative, then accusative for 2 nouns, accusative, then dative for 2 pronouns).  It’s also an opportunity for learners to personalise language and show independence in their language learning by using dictionaries to work out how to say something that is meaningful to them.

As ever I have been on the lookout for some suitable authentic materials, particularly video, to give a bit of cultural input to my Chinese lessons.  Valentine’s Day is not a traditional Chinese festival (their equivalent would be the Double seventh festival – Qīxī   七夕) as can be seen by the responses of the older people interviewed in this video.  However, it’s clear that with globalization some western habits have made their way East and red roses (and some of the other paraphernalia of Valentine’s Day) can now certainly be found on the streets of Beijing and other major Chinese cities.  This particular video comes from a series entitled Sexy Beijing so is unlikely to get past most schools’ filtering systems; I’ll have to rely on my Realplayer download to show excerpts in class. 

However, I’ve also found this one which is quite short and which, like the Sexy Beijing one, has English subtitles making it accessible to all learners, even at a basic level.  They can pick out words they do know and the context helps them to understand and pick up the new ones.  For a short video without commentary there is also this one which can be used as a stimulus for oral work.

Whilst scouting around for suitable videos I came across this video on how to say “I love you” in different languages.  It struck me that this could be a good video to show pupils sceptical of the value of learning languages; in fact in the past in the face of the “Why are do we have to learn French?” question I have often pointed out to pupils (often boys) that they never know who they might fall in love with and that they never know when their knowledge of a language or their language learning strategies might come in handy!

For a completely different approach to Valentine’s Day Liz Black, from Stokesley School, North Yorkshire, talked at last year’s Language World about working Valentine’s Day into a Fairtrade theme, looking at the cost and origin of ordinary roses compared to Fairtrade ones.

And a final thought – perhaps today is really the day to get our pupils speaking with a spot of speed dating in class!

春节到了- Chinese New Year

January 31, 2011

Chinese New Year is upon us – February 3rd.  The tiger is giving way to the rabbit and preparations to celebrate the new year will be well underway amongst Chinese communities across the world.

At school we will be marking this by listening to (and learning) some songs and doing some paper cutting.  There is an introduction to this art on this video.

Youtube has any number of Chinese New Year songs but I’ve decided to focus on this one as the Mandarin subtitles are clear to read, the simple images match the words and there is a translation into English at the top – it also ties in nicely with weather and climate that we’ve been looking at recently, so it will be an opportunity for my pupils to pick out the words they recognise.  To use in class  I’ve taken a series of screen shots and added subtitles in Pinyin as well (I’ve added a fade out animation to the Pinyin to help my students towards recognising characters).  It’s perhaps not the kindest on the ear to listen to but I’ve found a couple of other versions of the same song for us to sing along to, once we’ve got the basics done. 

The M-Girls, who specialize in releasing albums at  Chinese New Year  have a nice medley of various songs including 恭喜恭喜 at the beginning.   咚隆咚枪, sung here by a different artist also features on their video.

中秋节 – Mid Autumn Festival

September 21, 2010


I  popped down to Chinatown last week to buy some mooncakes in readiness for the Mid Autumn Festival which falls this year on September 22nd.  Zhōngqiūjié(中秋节)  also known as the Moon festival, the Mooncake festival  or (in Singapore) as the Lantern festival falls on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month.   

The BBC’s learning broadband has an excellent clip on this festival which not only mentions the legend of Houyi the archer and Chang’e but also has a bit about a family preparing for the festival by making and eating dumplings together.  It ends up with the family going out to gaze at the moon whilst reciting the famous poem  Jìng yè sī (静夜思) by Lǐ Bái (李白). 

It was an ideal clip to use with my Chinese club as the language is very accessible covering such areas as simple introductions, the vocabulary for family members and phrases for talking about food.  Next week I am planning to use this song with the club.