Learning and Teaching Mandarin Chinese

I had been teaching for two years with a PGCE Primary MFL qualification when during an interview, I was asked if I would be interested in learning Chinese in order to teach it. My reply, that I had an interest in Cantonese film and a passion for languages, seemed to have worked, as I have now worked at Robin Hood Primary Academy for just over 8 years.

My initial role was Class Teacher and teaching French and I started a languages blog robinhoodpmfl.wordpress.com to showcase the children’s work, sharing websites and resources I had used in lessons in order to the children to revise at home. I then started Mandarin Chinese lessons at evening classes at the Brasshouse Language Centre, making sure I was a couple of weeks ahead of the children, so I could teach them what I had learnt in my lessons. Initially, it was a real labour of love as I found it nearly impossible to find resources or teachers to share ideas with. All the websites were in Chinese. I could research for resource material for French, but reading Chinese websites was another matter.

Twitter was a great way to find other language teachers who taught Chinese, sharing their resources which were transferable. I participated on the yahoo Primary Languages Forum, where people shared their resources, but at that time there weren’t many Chinese teachers. My Mandarin slowly improved over the months, but I still had a long way to go.

I wrote my own planning, taking any cultural references mentioned in my evening classes and researching them in order to teach them to the children. We even had TeachersTV come and film a lesson.

After a maternity leave break, I returned to work for a new headteacher, Richard Hunter. Richard asked me if I would go to China with him to our link school, Beijing No. 2 Experimental Primary School and I agreed. It was enlightening to have a tour of an education system quite different from ours and to meet some of the 2,700 students who were friendly and excited.

During the first morning of our visit, there was a flag raising ceremony. As we waited in the cold December morning, I hadn’t even noticed half the school had filed into the playground in complete silence. We had been informed that we were to give a speech to the 2000 students present, I thought my knees would give way! As I spoke in English a Grade 6 child simultaneously translated it for the students.

The sights we saw were phenomenal, I ran out of superlatives. Our link school’s hospitality was so welcoming. We were to be chauffeur driven onto Tiananmen Square into the back entrance of Chairman Mao’s mausoleum, a private tour of priceless artefacts which different provinces had sent to the mausoleum on the news of his death, his name in Rubies or gold silk thread tapestry, and we got to jump the queue to file past the chairman himself. It was a trip of a lifetime, and finally I understood the language so much more. For example, the shape of the characters were like the slant on the roofs of traditional buildings.

The Mandarin Chinese language work had gained us Confucius Classroom status, winning a grant and a teacher from China each year. I have set up a Chinese Choir, and we have performed in the Chinese Quarter in the centre of Birmingham for the Chinese New Year celebrations last year, where the children were each paid £1 in red envelopes, then again for the Mid Autumn festival. We have made a music video; bit.ly/uked15feb07


We have just performed, the Disney film Frozen, ‘Let it go’, Suí t? ba ??? for our Christmas performance, I wanted to children to have a full experience, so we made a set of the ice castle, a dance instructor, they designed their own t-shirts, stage make up, props and lights. This year, we will performing again in Birmingham’s Chinese Quarter. bit.ly/uked15feb08

I like to use very practical and hands on ideas in my lessons to engage the children. For example, using inks and brushes, games, and songs, sometimes even a ukulele. Mandarin Chinese engages and interests all the students. Boys in particular enjoy the culture of Kung Fu, dragons and the logic of the language and learning to write the characters. If you are thinking of learning and teaching Chinese, I highly recommend it. Through this I have firmly put the language knowledge into my own long term memory, the power of this has meant that I often use peer teaching within lessons and across the school. For example, our Year 3 students planned, wrote and delivered Mandarin lesson in the Foundation and Key Stage 1.

This experience has been life-changing. It has opened doors to experiences that I will never forget. I am constantly learning new words and cultural insights and I have created my own Mandarin Chinese website.

Read the full article of this article freely in the February 2015 Edition of UKEdMagazine by Clicking Here.

Simone Haughey @simonehaughey is a MFL Consultant, Primary Languages Teacher and Confucius Classroom Manager at Robin Hood Primary Academy. Simone is a lover of languages as a way to make friends and try new cuisine! She is a self-professed teachmeet addict and likes to keep up her CPD with #mfltwitterati on Twitter and Primary Languages on facebook. These are great ways of sharing and being inspired.

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