Sunday, December 04, 2005

Mandarin and learning

One common theme that seems to crop up here among foreign students is that the majority of people feel that they are not learning enough Chinese. Could it be that they are all insensitive to their own progress? Having taught english as a foreign language and seen how students react to their progress, there's always a few who feel they are not making sufficiently quick or deep headway with the language, no matter how much they learn. Maybe this can be part of the answer, but with such a large number of people feeling this way, it cannot be the norm.

I believe it is because of the way that Beijing Normal University teaches that the students feel so bad. The classes don't inspire students to learn, and the topics and content seem activly to discourage interest! There is no effort made to connect with the students in the books, or in the classes itself. The exception to this is newspaper reading, where the students collect articles from newspapers themselves and present them in class. Because the topic of the lesson is chosen by the students there's a much greater connection, and everyone seems to enjoy it more (I certainly do!). However, even this class is held back by the fact that there is a text that has to be studied for the exam at the end. I say studied, I mean memorised for regurgiation in said exam.

I discussed the teaching with my Bao Kan (newspaper reading) teacher, as she is the most open minded and approachable of all our teachers. She said that in the summer, when Princeton sends its students to BNU that they use western teaching methods, and maybe that would suit me more (as I had said that the majority of classes weren't getting me motivated).
"Why not use the western methods all the time?", said I.
"Because the students here are mostly oriental, and are accustomed to the oriental method of rote learning", she replied. "But they are bored too!" "I know...but if we used western methods everyone would be too tired. I think you learn a lot more using western methods"
So at least someone realises that the classes aren't being taught in the best way they could be; as I've said the Bao Kan classes are the best, and even when we have to use the book, the teacher focuses on what we need to learn for the exam and does it as quickly as possible.

This is another BIG problem with the teaching - it's all focused on the exam and how to pass it, not necessarily how to improve our Chinese. So the endless homework excercises are just preparation for more of the same (and actually quite literally the same [not much effort goes into testing here...]) in the exam.

Things really need to change, but the problem is that because all th schools are equally bad, and there are not sufficient places to teach all the foreigners who wish to learn the language, that no one bothers to try and make advances. So we are still stuck with this feudalistic teaching method - funnily enough one of the few 'feudal' things that the communists did not oust during the various post 1949 revolutions!


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