A Multifaceted Chinese Class

A Multifaceted Chinese Class

How do Chapin students master another language? Guided by our World Languages teachers, Spanish, French, Latin and Chinese, and their connected cultures, come to life in myriad ways across the curriculum, strengthening our scholars’ skills and broadening their perspectives. One energetic example occurred recently in Hong Shepp’s Upper School Chinese I class.

Recently, the Class 8 students, who began studying Chinese in Middle School, sat in a ring of desks chatting with one another. As soon as the first activity was announced, they sprang up and assembled in the center of the room. “We’re going to put on a play!” Ms. Shepp explained.

Moments later, the class performed a scene from “The Tortoise and the Hare.” With several classmates wearing simple costumes – green construction-paper shells and pink bunny ears – the ensemble expertly recited their memorized lines in Mandarin, which they had been practicing for weeks, and crawled, hopped and walked across an improvised finish line.

Throughout the scene, Ms. Shepp gently corrected the pronunciation of several words, while offering plenty of praise and encouragement. As her students presented the timeless fable with earnestness (and a few giggles), it was clear that this creative exercise had succeeded in deepening their understanding of Mandarin, an enormously popular Chinese dialect spoken by some 900 million people (by contrast, 60 million people speak Cantonese, the second-largest dialect).

Pivoting to the next mini-lesson, Ms. Shepp clicked on an instructive video, filling the room with percussive music. As animated animals bopped on the screen, the students sang the lyrics to a traditional Lunar New Year song, prompted by subtitles in both Chinese characters and Pinyin, a tool for writing Chinese in the Roman alphabet.

The singing continued with two more numbers, including the Mandarin translation of “I Want It That Way” by the Backstreet Boys, which resulted in a chorus of exuberant voices. As much fun as the students appeared to be having, they were also fortifying their vocabulary comprehension and oral abilities.

In the next part of this action-packed class, the students broke into small groups and engaged in a friendly competition on their laptops. The objective of the online game, offered through the enrichment website Quizlet.com, was to quickly identify Chinese characters. Correct answers advanced a cartoon avatar down a virtual racetrack.

“The hardest part about learning Chinese is recognizing the characters,” noted Ms. Shepp as her students cheered each other on.

Tapping rapidly on their keyboards, they eagerly tested their growing knowledge. When a team prevailed (and their avatar won the race), they jumped up and down with excitement. Fortunately, there was enough time for multiple rounds, allowing the class to share the bragging rights.

After a quick break, Ms. Shepp devoted the final portion of the 75-minute class to a dialogue and grammar study. First, the students watched a video depicting three people greeting one another at the entrance to a home (this time without subtitles). They listened carefully to each speaker’s word choices and inflection. Then Ms. Shepp led a review of the same phrases in their class textbook, copies of which were open on the desks.

“How do you say, ‘Please come in’?” she asked. When a student responded accurately, the rest of the class repeated the sentence in unison. This helpful back-and-forth lasted for several minutes. When the period ended, the students packed up their belongings, said goodbye to Ms. Shepp and made their way downstairs to lunch.

In upcoming Chinese I classes, the Class 8 students will further hone their listening, speaking, reading comprehension and writing aptitude through immersive and enjoyable lessons like this one, moving them one step closer to becoming proficient linguists.