Greg Horton Special Mk III – Group Talk

December 1, 2013

Group Talk phrasesThe 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.

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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.


Chinese culture unwrapped

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

and more….

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.


Memory power – how does your garden grow?

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.


Pinyin perfect with New Concept Mandarin – best online resources for learning Chinese #5

February 28, 2012

Getting the tone correct is one of the challenges of learning Mandarin. Get it wrong and you could unwittingly be saying something offensive or simply talking about sugar rather than soup – could be interesting in a restaurant!

Sound discrimination exercises can be helpful but if they are only done in a whole class situation there will be some learners who still don’t “get it”.  Some, but not all, textbooks come with a CD of audio files – this is particularly useful as it’s only by doing a lot of listening that you can really get to grips with the sound of Mandarin and the various tones.  Finding an audio file for a specific pinyin sound however, is not always easy and that’s where the guide to Chinese pronunciation on a site like New Concept Mandarin comes into its own.

This guide explains what pinyin is and about the tones, and has a clickable pronunciation table with sound files.   You can click on a sound and then compare that with the same sound but a different tone;  the movement in the tone is also represented visually.  For those pupils who find some combinations of initials and finals tricky, such as words beginning with x, q and zh this can be a really useful tool, and ultimately it can help them along the way to becoming independent language learners.


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.


Christmas songs 圣诞节

December 11, 2011

Christmas is coming and it’s song time!  I’ve just added a few links on the Chinese songs page to videos for Jingle Bells, Santa Claus is coming tonight and We wish you a merry Christmas.

If you really want to go to town and do some carols in Chinese, John Pasden’s blog Sinosplice has some downloadable zip folders of mp3 files and pdf files of the lyrics of some popular Christmas carols such as Silent Night, Joy to the World and the First Noel.  Happy singing!