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Mastering Mandarin

16 January 2015

BISS Pudong provides students, who may be non-Mandarin speakers or Mandarin speakers, with opportunities to learn Mandarin at their appropriate levels. Each key stage has different programs specifically designed to accommodate students’ individual progress and students work to develop a good command of all four language skills in reading, writing, speaking and listening plus an understanding of Chinese people and their culture.

Varied in-class and extra-curricular activities have been organised to motivated students’ learning; for example, charades,bingo,hang man and hànzì tǐcāo (a body exercise where you trace a Chinese character) in class. Some students attend the migrant school extra-curricular activity where they buddy with local school students and exchange languages. Mandarin assembly, speech competitions and trips to local communities also provide students with opportunities to show their confidence in Mandarin.


However, to master Mandarin, practice in school is not enough. It is important for children to practise the things they have learned in their Mandarin lessons. Living in Shanghai means there are a lot of opportunities and resources to help them do this and parents can help children to form a habit of using Mandarin in daily life. Here are some suggestions:


·      Find a language partner - Speaking with a native speaker is one of the best ways to improve language skills. It is easy to find a Mandarin native speaker in school or in your compound. Set up “Mandarin” time during which the children speak about anything, but only in Mandarin. The language partner will easily be able to correct any grammar or pronunciation mistakes and can introduce more informal or colloquial speech that won't be found in a textbook.


·      Go outside and chat with the locals – Every day you meet local people: drivers, security guards, shop assistant, ayis and so on. Greetings, chatting about weather or food, asking prices or directions, are real-life speaking situations which help your child to speak Mandarin naturally. Visiting the museum, eating at local restaurants and shopping at local markets not only provide practice in spoken Mandarin but also increases understanding of the culture.


·      Choose a favorite media - Following a Chinese TV show, watching favourite cartoons or children’s movies in Mandarin or listening to Chinese music, is an enjoyable way to build vocabulary just by sitting on the couch. It also tests listening and comprehension away from the classroom. Eschewing English-language social networks in favour of their Chinese equivalents, like WeChat or WeiBo, provides a good reason to use Chinese characters on a daily basis, as well as the opportunity to network with Chinese netizens.


·      Decorate with Chinese characters at home - Anyone learning Chinese knows how difficult it is to understand and remember Chinese characters. But if you are in an environment with Chinese characters and spend a little time every day to practising, children will come to recognize Chinese characters naturally. Label things at home with Chinese characters, or create a Chinese character wall in a room, to give the children consistent visual impact. Encourage your children to make the labels or decorate the wall with Chinese character themselves and update regularly. As time goes on, more and more Chinese characters are accumulated. 


Helping your child to immerse themselves in a Mandarin-speaking environment and PRACTICE improves language skills quickly and consistently.


By Grace Huang, Acting Head of Mandarin, The British International School Shanghai, Pudong