Teaching Mandarin through innovation

Updated: 2016-07-21 11:06

By Niu Yue in New York(China Daily)

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 Teaching Mandarin through innovation

Fan Na, Mandarin-language teacher at the BASIS Independence School in Brooklyn, teaches students the language using QTalk. Niu Yue / For China Daily

To meet increasingly high international educational standards, foreign languages - including Mandarin - have been established as compulsory courses in the curricula of some of the top-ranked schools in the US.

Along with the trend have come some innovative teaching methods.

One example is found at BASIS Independent Brooklyn, a private preK-to-12 school where learning Mandarin starts in Kindergarten through a system called QTALK.

"This method makes it possible for children, who have never been exposed to Mandarin before, to say long and complicated sentences in Chinese after a very short time learning," said Fan Na, a Mandarin-teacher at the school.

QTALK is the brainchild of Maurice Hazan, a Parisian artist, linguist and teacher, who began his career as a French teacher in St Louis, Missouri in the 1990s.

The method - which works in French, German, Japanese and English, as well as Mandarin - is based on a series of icons placed side-by-side and interpreted as full complex sentences from the very first lesson.

Hazan explained that the method is based on the concept of active cognition, which makes students active participants in the learning experience with the teacher acting as a facilitator.

Even students who had never been exposed to pinyin or Chinese characters are able to recite long, complicated Chinese sentences, "which greatly improves students' interest and confidence in learning," said Fan, who helped write the Chinese teaching materials and develop a variety of learning tools with QTALK publishers.

"After just a short term of study, students can handle basic communication in Chinese," Fan added.

Compared to traditional language learning methods, QTALK also adds more fun to the learning process with game playing and song singing.

The school's Chinese teachers work closely with music teachers to integrate learning. In music class, for instance, students sing songs in Chinese with the lyrics written in icons.

"We know that, in the classroom, student achievement is directly related to student happiness," the BASIS website says.

Opened in 2014, BASIS Independent Brooklyn, one of the founding schools in a family of schools preparing students for higher education, currently enrolls 400. Students choose in middle school whether to continue in Mandarin or pick another language to study.

BASIS also has private schools in Silicon Valley, Fremont, California and McLean, Virginia, with an international school in Shenzhen, China, and 21 public charter schools across the US.

BASIS follows the best school systems in Europe and Asia focusing on teaching science and a spiraling math curriculum, English and foreign languages.

"In a world of accelerated change, students need more than what traditional education offers," the BASIS website says.