Chinese in the classroom

I was going to start another thread about this, but I thought that it was appropriate to look for a suitable thread to put it in first. So, here I am.

Chinese In Class

In seven years I’ve heard it all, and done it all… Lots of Chinese, no Chinese at all, Chinese in an emergency, Chinese text to English, English text to Chinese etc. And I have yet to draw a hard and fast conclusion about most of these methods, except I feel that lots of Chinese isn’t good or necessary (that should be obvious).

The past few years I’ve had a pretty much no Chinese approach with my classes and that’s the way it is done in our schools too. The only time that I’ve used Chinese is to catch some kids up in special catch up classes. Apart from that, I haven’t spoken Chinese in class.

One thing I have been doing is checking that the kids understand key vocab and asking them what it means… they usually respond by trying to explain in English in the same way that I explained it to them. Sometimes they will ask, “may I speak Chinese?” To that question I will say, “yes”. I will listen to their translation and tell them if they are right or wrong. Although, now my students all know how to use a dictionary and prefer to look it up for themselves. I am split in opinion on that one. I prefer them to think for themselves and only use the dictionary to check if they were correct or not. This, I guess, is using Chinese.

There has been a fair amount of comment on the boards recently about use of Chinese in class being a very useful tool for the foreign teacher. In some ways I agree that being able to understand Chinese is very useful, but am undecided on the advantages of a foreign teacher actually being in the habit of speaking Chinese in class. I have seen teachers who used this approach in the past and the results were not entirely desirable, not that they were bad teachers, but the children developed an unhealthy reliance on Chinese. That is they weren’t willing to think for themselves and had to be spoon fed.

I am interested in Chinese and have a reasonable ability in the language. That means that I would like to be able to use it in class, but would my motivation be to take the easy way out or to practice Chinese. Would I choose Chinese over the best interests of my students.

Understanding Chinese is AWESOME for classroom control. The kids don’t get away with anything because you understand the smart ass things they are saying. Therefore they keep their noses clean in your class.

The L1 language filter cannot be ignored. However, I have always tried to move my kids up and over the filter level. For the most part, I have been successful. I now have a group of kids that are independant thinkers in English. That inspires me.

Now, my question is, could I do things better by using some of the strengths of teachers using Chinese in class? Could I add something that is going to take my school over the top? Would I move from great to SUPER results?

Please share your experiences with Chinese in the English classroom.

[quote=“Bassman”]I was going to start another thread about this, but I thought that it was appropriate to look for a suitable thread to put it in first. So, here I am.

Chinese In Class

In seven years I’ve heard it all, and done it all… Lots of Chinese, no Chinese at all, Chinese in an emergency, Chinese text to English, English text to Chinese etc. And I have yet to draw a hard and fast conclusion about most of these methods, except I feel that lots of Chinese isn’t good or necessary (that should be obvious).

The past few years I’ve had a pretty much no Chinese approach with my classes and that’s the way it is done in our schools too. The only time that I’ve used Chinese is to catch some kids up in special catch up classes. Apart from that, I haven’t spoken Chinese in class.

One thing I have been doing is checking that the kids understand key vocab and asking them what it means… they usually respond by trying to explain in English in the same way that I explained it to them. Sometimes they will ask, “may I speak Chinese?” To that question I will say, “yes”. I will listen to their translation and tell them if they are right or wrong. Although, now my students all know how to use a dictionary and prefer to look it up for themselves. I am split in opinion on that one. I prefer them to think for themselves and only use the dictionary to check if they were correct or not. This, I guess, is using Chinese.

There has been a fair amount of comment on the boards recently about use of Chinese in class being a very useful tool for the foreign teacher. In some ways I agree that being able to understand Chinese is very useful, but am undecided on the advantages of a foreign teacher actually being in the habit of speaking Chinese in class. I have seen teachers who used this approach in the past and the results were not entirely desirable, not that they were bad teachers, but the children developed an unhealthy reliance on Chinese. That is they weren’t willing to think for themselves and had to be spoon fed.

I am interested in Chinese and have a reasonable ability in the language. That means that I would like to be able to use it in class, but would my motivation be to take the easy way out or to practice Chinese. Would I choose Chinese over the best interests of my students.

Understanding Chinese is AWESOME for classroom control. The kids don’t get away with anything because you understand the smart ass things they are saying. Therefore they keep their noses clean in your class.

The L1 language filter cannot be ignored. However, I have always tried to move my kids up and over the filter level. For the most part, I have been successful. I now have a group of kids that are independant thinkers in English. That inspires me.

Now, my question is, could I do things better by using some of the strengths of teachers using Chinese in class? Could I add something that is going to take my school over the top? Would I move from great to SUPER results?

Please share your experiences with Chinese in the English classroom.[/quote]
I vote that this gets its own thread. I think it is a worthy topic.

I think you have to look at it in terms of opportunity cost. What are you losing when you speak Chinese? How much time do you lose by trying do everything in English?

Using Chinese has several disadvantages: Students revert to their Chinese thinking, the belief that Chinese is the only real language of communication gets reinforced, and students lose the chance to get more input in the the target language.

But sometimes trying to explain and use gestures takes up a lot of time. If it takes 5 minutes to explain something that you could communicate in 5 seconds then you have to consider the advantage of using Chinese.

[quote=“puiwaihin”][quote=“Bassman”]I was going to start another thread about this, but I thought that it was appropriate to look for a suitable thread to put it in first. So, here I am.

Chinese In Class

In seven years I’ve heard it all, and done it all… Lots of Chinese, no Chinese at all, Chinese in an emergency, Chinese text to English, English text to Chinese etc. And I have yet to draw a hard and fast conclusion about most of these methods, except I feel that lots of Chinese isn’t good or necessary (that should be obvious).

The past few years I’ve had a pretty much no Chinese approach with my classes and that’s the way it is done in our schools too. The only time that I’ve used Chinese is to catch some kids up in special catch up classes. Apart from that, I haven’t spoken Chinese in class.

One thing I have been doing is checking that the kids understand key vocab and asking them what it means… they usually respond by trying to explain in English in the same way that I explained it to them. Sometimes they will ask, “may I speak Chinese?” To that question I will say, “yes”. I will listen to their translation and tell them if they are right or wrong. Although, now my students all know how to use a dictionary and prefer to look it up for themselves. I am split in opinion on that one. I prefer them to think for themselves and only use the dictionary to check if they were correct or not. This, I guess, is using Chinese.

There has been a fair amount of comment on the boards recently about use of Chinese in class being a very useful tool for the foreign teacher. In some ways I agree that being able to understand Chinese is very useful, but am undecided on the advantages of a foreign teacher actually being in the habit of speaking Chinese in class. I have seen teachers who used this approach in the past and the results were not entirely desirable, not that they were bad teachers, but the children developed an unhealthy reliance on Chinese. That is they weren’t willing to think for themselves and had to be spoon fed.

I am interested in Chinese and have a reasonable ability in the language. That means that I would like to be able to use it in class, but would my motivation be to take the easy way out or to practice Chinese. Would I choose Chinese over the best interests of my students.

Understanding Chinese is AWESOME for classroom control. The kids don’t get away with anything because you understand the smart ass things they are saying. Therefore they keep their noses clean in your class.

The L1 language filter cannot be ignored. However, I have always tried to move my kids up and over the filter level. For the most part, I have been successful. I now have a group of kids that are independant thinkers in English. That inspires me.

Now, my question is, could I do things better by using some of the strengths of teachers using Chinese in class? Could I add something that is going to take my school over the top? Would I move from great to SUPER results?

Please share your experiences with Chinese in the English classroom.[/quote]
I vote that this gets its own thread. I think it is a worthy topic.

I think you have to look at it in terms of opportunity cost. What are you losing when you speak Chinese? How much time do you lose by trying do everything in English?

Using Chinese has several disadvantages: Students revert to their Chinese thinking, the belief that Chinese is the only real language of communication gets reinforced, and students lose the chance to get more input in the the target language.
But sometimes trying to explain and use gestures takes up a lot of time. If it takes 5 minutes to explain something that you could communicate in 5 seconds then you have to consider the advantage of using Chinese.[/quote]

My problem exactly. When does the exception cross the line and become the rule. When do the students start shutting down their thinking process in English because they know that the Chinese is available?

How much is too much Chinese?

Where is the line? Is there a line?

You can’t make it a teaching practice for everyone when not all of your staff have ability in Chinese.

Do you pay someone more for Chinese language ability? If so, what is the measuring stick for the ability? Myself, I’d rather pay for results than a peice of paper that says someone can speak Chinese.

Do parents have an opinion about foreign staff speaking Chinese to their children? I would think that they would and it probably wouldn’t be a good opinion either.

Suggested guidelines?

Great idea for a thread Bassman. My take is simple (although this is of primary relevance to adult classes, perhaps exclusively): no Chinese in class. This for two reasons.

First, a no Chinese rule creates for a brief period in time a state of immersion in English. It is my belief (based on personal experience in learning Chinese and with some rough reading of Chomsky et.al) that immersion is the source of most language acquisition, and this one rule will do more than anything else to encourage your students to talk. It’s a sink or swim strategy, but if you enforce it with kindness and humor, it’s an easy sell.

Second, a no Chinese rule puts the class smart-arse to good use. Instead of him (and it’s usually a him!) translating every new term as it comes up to win face at everyone else’s expense, he becomes a teaching tool. This speaks to Pui’s point: I rarely do backflips in class trying to explain difficult terms. I just handball them to stronger students that ‘get it’ and have them teach the others (in groups, partners or whatever). Everyone wins.

[quote=“Bassman”]My problem exactly. When does the exception cross the line and become the rule. When do the students start shutting down their thinking process in English because they know that the Chinese is available?

How much is too much Chinese?

Where is the line? Is there a line?[/quote]
I don’t think you need to look for a line. I think a line is too thin. I see using too much Chinese in class as a precipice right beside a winding mountainous road. The road is fairly broad, but slopes towards the abyss. You don’t have to hug the mountain to be safe, but when you start coming towards the edge you can start to feel the slope leading you towards disaster.

Ok, here’s something a little less allegorical-

Me, I try to keep my class at as close to 100% English as I can. Any time you have kids yelling out answers all in Chinese or automatically giving the Chinese instead of trying to explain something in English you have too much Chinese in class. If your goal is 100% English, you will use 99%. If your goal is 99% you’ll have 90% English. If your goal is 90% English you’ll have 60% English.

Do the kids try to think things through in English before using Chinese? Do the children ask you before they use Chinese, or do they automatically assume it’s ok? After you use Chinese how much trouble do the children have switching back to English? Do the children use Chinese in class when they have the grammar and vocabulary to ask in English?

The answers to questions like this determine for me if I’m getting too close to the edge of the precipice.

Do you hire a TA to stay with the kids to handle necessary Chinese speaking? If you don’t have to because the foreign teacher can handle it then adding on about half the TA’s wage would make sense.

An Open House type of activity where the foreign teacher uses Chinese as sparingly as in the classroom would probably allay the worries of any parents. I haven’t had any parent who ever observed me teaching complain about the use or amount of Chinese used in my classes. I have had cases, though, where parents apparently complained about Chinese in a class where no parent ever observed. :loco:

My adult students usually come to class at night exhausted from a long day at work. That’s just the reality of their lives. If I set forth some hard and fast “No Chinese” rule I suspect half of them would quit. In fact what quite often happens is that they show up with their box lunches and just want to relax and eat for the first twenty minutes or so, so I let them do that and try to translate everything they say in Chinese into English. I know that they are listening to the translations I provide because they comment on whether I got it right or not. If they don’t comment I assume they don’t understand the English and repeat it a few times and try to explain what I think might be confusing to them. In other words the launching pad for the discussion is stuff that they actually said. Gradually we switch over to English and then I try to use Chinese only for grammatical explanations. As far as possible I try to “show” what I mean either through reference to context or some goal that we are all aware of such as the need to “unplug” the VHS player and “move it out of the way” so there “is room for” the DVD player which then needs to be “plugged in” so that we can “play”, “fast forward”, “rewind”… For obvious reasons it’s is frequently possible to demonstrate and use (teach?) this vocabulary without recourse to Chinese. More abstract vocabulary like philosophy or justice is perhaps more effectively taught through translation.

puiwaihin,

You have now moved to the level of “sage” in my eyes.

Insightful posts that are full of wisdom. I like what you posted here. It’s all good.

I like this thread! Keep it up, Teachers!

I learned enough classroom Chinese early on in order to correct the kids when they were taking the piss of me. Other than that, I let them translate vocabulary when there’s a spare 5 minutes. They seem to enjoy that a lot. It relaxes them. They think it’s funny to hear teacher “learn” the vocab also. That’s about 10 minutes a week. It gets them out the door with a smile on their faces.

many leading names in SLA call for the selective use of the native language in certain situations.

sometimes it can be used to show parallels between L1 and L2, showing students that the target language is not so far off from that which they are already familiar with.

as previously mentioned, is it a valid use of time to explain some point of grammar for 5-10 minutes, boring your students to tears in the process or confusing them even further? i’ve had situations where i know that the english explanation did work in the end, but it still was a waste of time. much better to get the point across and then provide opportunities for use. you can still use a top-down or a bottom-up approach. and this is not for every grammar point etc., only for those ones that are problematic for many classes (ie you’ve seen many classes struggle with the same point).

another point to consider is the homogeneity of your classes - are they really all at the same level? if so, then great, you should have a good idea of what they will and won’t understand. heterogenious classes present more difficulties.

finally (for now), this choice can have repercussions where motivation is concerned. i’ve mentioned this book in another thread, but if you are serious about teaching and want to learn more about motivation, read dornyei’s “Motivational Strategies in the Language Classroom”. there needs to be a reason that students speak (almost) only english in the classroom - just stating that as a rule may have little/no effect.

good thread, btw.

Teaching the little ones phonics, I will sometimes revert to showing them bo po mo fo, and get them to read it (which of course, they can). I say “If you can say ‘bo an, ban!’ then you can read p-a-n pan.”

I use Chinese in class extremely sparingly, and never with my more advanced classes. The beginners will get the dual “zuo hao, sit properly” thing from me until they get used to it.

I really try to discourage Chinese being spoken casually in class though. Sometimes when I hear the same thing over and over again I will give them the English translation “shi wo de! is ‘that’s mine!’” After they know “That’s mine” I don’t allow them to say the Chinese.

I don’t think there’s any hard and fast rule for this though. To absolutely demand all English all the time is a bit unfair, in my mind, though.

I do a lot of context checking in my classes, especially my beginners.

“The horse eats the cat.”

What is cat? mao
what is eats? chr
what is eats the cat?
what is the horse?
what is The horse eats the cat?

This slows way way down afer the get the hang of things, but at the beginning I want to be able to utilize their Chinese language ability to ease into English.

Immersion classes are hard in Taiwan as there is no English to support them AFTER class. We cannot escape this reality.

I probably speak too much Chinese in the classroom now, however most of it comes from me explaining to lazy students why their ability is subpar: “Do you do your homework? No? Can you read the book? No? Do you see the connection? Hello…”

I do totally agree that FT understanding at least basic Chinese is an excellent tool in the classroom. I once had a kid calling a FT a “fucking monkey” in Taiwanese…he was in deep shit after class…didn’t know I was outside the door.

[quote=“jdsmith”]I do a lot of context checking in my classes, especially my beginners.

“The horse eats the cat.”

What is cat? mao
what is eats? chr
what is eats the cat?
what is the horse?
what is The horse eats the cat?

[/quote]

After I saw a certain teacher do this very thing :wink: I started doing it again, but sparingly. My kids still ask permission to use Chinese.

[quote=“Bassman”][quote=“jdsmith”]I do a lot of context checking in my classes, especially my beginners.

“The horse eats the cat.”

What is cat? mao
what is eats? chr
what is eats the cat?
what is the horse?
what is The horse eats the cat?

[/quote]

After I saw a certain teacher do this very thing :wink: I started doing it again, but sparingly. My kids still ask permission to use Chinese.[/quote]

I think that is a very good idea. I’d give them a code sentence each week to mean “May I speak Chinese.”

“The bird is flying.”
“The magma is in the volcano.”
“My underwear are on fire.”

Keeps it all fresh. Save the underwear… :unamused:

[quote=“Bassman”]puiwaihin,

You have now moved to the level of “sage” in my eyes.

Insightful posts that are full of wisdom. I like what you posted here. It’s all good.[/quote]
If only I could perfectly implement, that, though. It’s a lot easier to tell people about the path, it’s a lot harder to actually walk it. But I tend to err on the side of hugging the mountain rather than falling into the precipice. It’s a long way down…

I agree with pretty much everything xtrain has said as well.

Where’s the English guru club?

I do a compromise, which is to allow Chinese for the first 8 months or so, but do not allow Chinese for vocab/sentence patterns that have been previously taught.

After a certain level Chinese in class is cut off entirely. They then must ask for permission to speak Chinese to which I’ll reply “Is it important?” If not I’ll generally say no.

I’d probably drastically revise this in an immersion program.

We use a type of currency in our classes that kids can collect after every class to exhange later for gifts or even money (takes awhile). If the advanced class students are using too much Chinese in class they are fined. It’s pretty good incentive.

I’m hiring a new teacher for my school who has very good classroom instincts and a commanding presence but speaks no Chinese. I’m really curious to see how the kids will adapt. First signs are very positive.

I do not let my kids use Chinese in class at all except in very exceptional cases. I rarely have a problem with it. The very first day of school I told them that from the moment they walk into the door to the moment their caregiver picks them up, even though they are physically outside of the school waiting, they are expected to speak English. If there is a term that they are not sure of in English, they have to describe it in English rather than relying on one of their classmates translating it from Chinese for them. I discourage the use of translating or bilingual dictionaries, electronic or paper, and encourage that they have a good children’s dictionary at home to help them with their homework. We order books from Scholastic every two or three months and they almost always have their children’s dictionary for sale in each flyer so it’s not like it’s impossible for them to get a quality one. I haven’t had any problems with them speaking Chinese in class. At first, I got some “Ms. ______, he spoke Chinese (or rather, ‘he speak…’).” I would say, “I’m sure he knows that he spoke Chinese, but maybe he needs to remember what he should speak instead.” To which the tattling student would turn to the offender and say, “Please speak English.” Now even “Please speak English” is rarely heard in my classes. And if I hear it, all it takes is the patented Teacher Look - one of disappointment and reproach with a tiny pinch of warning.

It is an immersion class and the students are expected to have a decent level of English, but even when I have taught beginning classes in the US my expectation was that English was to be spoken at all times. It was easier there since my classes were multilingual, even though I lacked a lot of the classroom management skills I have gained since then.

The question is, is that more effective than a bilingual approach?

Assume that there are two classrooms with an English speaking environment. Students ask questions and get answers in English. In one, the teacher always explains things in 100% English with the use of visuals and demonstrations, never using a student’s native language and never allowing students to do so either. In the other classroom, the teacher will use L1 to give complex instructions, occasionally check comprehension, and to provide examples from L1 to explain structures in English.

Where will students learn more effectively?

With younger classes where they don’t have basic English yet, giving instructions can be very difficult. It can take several minutes to explain something that could be told in a few seconds through L1. In higher level classes there are abstrat concepts that students know through L1 that are time consuming to re-explain in English but that they would instantly know using Chinese. In all levels of classes there is interference from Chinese that will cause mistakes in English. Pointing out those differences and similarities can allow students to practice more correctly and avoid mistakes.

For the reasons given above, I think a class that uses Chinese in those select circumstances is the more effective one. Can it be done all in the target language? Sure. But is that more effective? I don’t believe so. On the other hand, using all English would be far better to a class where there is regular speaking in Chinese and students are constantly thinking in Chinese.