December 1, 2013
The London Branch of the Association for Language Learning hosted another Greg Horton Special yesterday, inviting Greg to speak about his inspirational and award winning project for getting pupils to use the target language spontaneously and in an authentic way – Group Talk.
Following his previous visit about 18 months ago I got together with our lovely Hanban teacher and put together the following presentation to teach pupils the key phrases for introducing the first stage of Group Talk to the my Year 12 learners. They responded incredibly well and with great enthusiasm; they were able to see how the core phrases could be used across a range of topics.
To begin with we gave them the following sheet of these core Group Talk phrases laminated for reference on the desk, but as they grew more familiar with them the support became less necessary. What is particularly gratifying is the fact that they will now come out with some of the core phrases at an appropriate moment during the normal course of a lesson. For example, I might make a statement about something and they comment with 真的吗?！ (really?!) or 我不同意 (I don’t agree) off their own bat.
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.
February 10, 2013
This 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.
January 22, 2013
Thanks to our Hanban teacher I’ve just been made aware of Hello China, a terrific set of short video clips which focus on 100 key words that relate to Chinese culture. Each video clip lasts two to three minutes approximately and starts with an introduction to the word in question in Chinese, together with an English translation of the word. This is followed by a commentary in English with Chinese subtitles. More advanced learners of Chinese could pause the video to see if they can pick out the key characters and compare how things are expressed in Chinese and English.
All kinds of cultural topics are covered by the videos, such as:
- Festivals (Chinese New Year, Mid Autumn Festival, Qing Ming etc)
- Chinese inventions (abacus, compass, gunpowder, paper, printing)
- Places (Beijing, Great wall, Three Gorges, Xian)
- Food (Roast duck, dumplings, noodles)
- Dress (Cheongsam, Tang suit)
- People (Confucius, Lao Tzu)
- Animals and birds (Panda, fish, dragon, phoenix)
- Dance, Calligraphy, Feng shui, Beijing opera, Kung Fu, Tai chi
They are easy to integrate into schemes of work based on traditional topics and make for a terrific starter and/or plenary activity – show pupils the video at the start of the lesson and see what they can recall. They could also be used as a springboard for an activity such as making fans or doing some calligraphy.
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.
March 6, 2012
I love it when students tell me about sites they’ve found/are using as it’s an indication to me that they are really switched on to independent language learning. A month or so ago a colleagues drew my attention to Memrise, a site for helping you learn vocabulary by stimulating the brain to make connections between a word and its meaning. The “mem” is in fact short for mnemonic and could be in the form of an image, story, phrase, audio or video and so on. I had a brief look at it when my attention was first drawn to this site but it was only when one of my year 12 students mentioned recently that she had been using it that I gave it a closer look.
Memrise is a wiki and aims to provide a fun way to learning languages and facts by creating a community of learners who share their own “mems”. The concept is simple; your memories start as “seeds”, you nurture them in your “greenhouse” (or short term memory) and finally you can harvest them in your “garden” (long term memory). Over 50 languages are available and once you have created your free account you can access any of the courses within each language. The “courses” are created by members of the Memrise community and can be anything from the vocabulary featured in a chapter of a course book to a thematic list of words.
When you start a “course” the words appear as flashcards; there are also sound files and you can see what “mems” have been created by other users which could help you learn the words. The words are presented in groups and every so often you are “tested”; this takes various forms from multiple choice recognition to writing the English for the word, or writing the word in the target language. In the case of the latter there is a bank of special characters that can be used in the case of French/German words etc that require accents or umlauts. You get instant feedback and you hear the word spoken. This stage of the learning process is the “watering” where words are constantly revisited whilst new words are introduced. Once the words are well established in your short term memory (after several “waterings”) they are ready to be “harvested” or transfered to the “garden” of your long term memory – you will get an email telling you when your “plants” are ready for this process. Even here your “plants” will need periodic “watering”.
I had a look at a few of the Mandarin courses first and was impressed with some of the visual mnemonics especially those where the character is essentially a pictogram. There are also some great “mems” where complex characters are broken down into their individual elements or radicals such as 青 (green) being made up of the radicals “one” + “earth” + “moon” where we can think of the whole of our natural (green) environment. Amongst the “courses” are the Asset languages Breakthrough word list, various HSK word lists and vocabulary from individual chapters of text books such as Jinbu, the Edexcel GCSE course book and Chinese made easy.
For learners of other languages the same principles apply. Amongst the French “courses” I found both the OCR and the Edexcel GCSE word lists; AQA is probably there as well if you scroll through the courses for long enough. Amongst the German courses there is one based on AQA AS vocabulary and one on Edexcel GCSE vocabulary. If you don’t find the exact course you are looking for you could always create one for your learners, or get them to do it – there is a dictionary for each language!
If learning 50 + languages is not enough for you there are also courses where you can acquire knowledge, such as the wild flowers or trees of Britain, or the names and faces of the members of the British cabinet or the Chinese Politburo standing committee!!
All in all it’s a great way to learn vocabulary and the emphasis on making connections and frequent revisiting helps to make it stick.