Using Chinese in the classroom

Do any other teachers use Chinese in the classroom, even when the schools prohibit it? There are some points in class when it seems all but necessary. Be it teaching very young children something very difficult, or getting a kid to go downstairs to get a mop and clean up that shit he just spilled. All the body language in the world wouldn’t help my class of small children understand "And you? (as in “I’m fine, and you?”). God, how smoothly the class went after I repeated:
“And you?..Ni ne?

several times. Or when teaching “Hurry up”, repeating "Kuai yi dian" a few times, all the students smiled and immidiately understood.

I guess I’m just a bad teacher.

I teach adults so I’m not sure that this relates exactly but in my classes I encourage my students to speak all the Manadrin they want. They just have to follow one simple rule - If it is said in Mandarin an attempt has to be made to translate that material to English. This has two effects: 1) If it is really easy, they say it in English the first time. 2) If it is going to be difficult to translate they don’t say it at all. Two is more problematic to be sure. In any case, you frequently discover as an adult student that the best learning environment is a bilingual one. If this is true why not try to create the ultimate bi-lingual environment for our students. It can be suprisingly easy to do. If you want more on this topic you could check out "How bout these apples’ by bob in this forum. Cheers.

i’ve always doen 70/30- 30 percent chinese 70 percent english. i ask a few questions at the begining of class in english then i pretty much know the level range in the class. so i know what phrases porabaly need to be translated. that works for me.

Theres a great ad I saw on Yo-Yo TV this evening. A prototypical 20 something blond white male teacher telling his girl student - “Let’s try to speak English” in a really sweet voice. Then they change to a shot of the little girl crying while the other kids taunt “No Chinese, No Chinese.” I don’t really know what they’re trying to sell/portray, but it’s a classic in my book.

I only use Chinese if the students REALLY can’t understand something. If I use it too much they seem to think that they can speak Chinese all class. If you haven’t already guessed, I teach children, not adults. :slight_smile:

I think i saw that ad too. only saw the end of it once, it appeared to be from the education ministry and ended with the caption “do you know what your kids have to put up with at the bushiban?” or something to that effect. i missed the “let’s try to speak english” part as the sound was off, i got the impression the boy was teasing the girl about something and the teacher had no clue what she was trying to tell him. well maybe that is what happened :slight_smile:

i guess they’ll love me :unamused: i start out speaking almost only chinese with my kids, and finish up the program speaking almost only english. i introduce rules gradually that i have to be addressed/queried in english. i still explain grammar in chinese the whole way through, no assistant teacher. it works for me.

Generally speaking the lower the level the more Chinese I use. The only times I do speak Chinese tend to be for the “classroom management” side of things. Asking the child to get a mop, arranging the chairs.etc. It can be done in English but when faced with beginners, taking 20 minutes to mime the actions for fetching a mop etc, the time is better spent elsewhere.

twocs wrote

Saw the same ad myself and from what I could gather its being used to deter parents from sending their children to immersion kindergartens.

Ignoring the fact that your students already possess a first language is perhaps similar to ignoring the fact that they have feelings.

Students have feelings? lol I never would have guessed…

I like to make an effort to teach it in English. If the kids aren’t understanding, I’ll try body language, pictures, props, or Chinese as a last resort. If it’s something not very relevant to the class, then spending a long time on it in English when I can just get a quick Chinese translation seems like a good strategy.

One of my goals is to have the students be able to use English dictionaries, so if I’m always using Chinese in class, the students could stop paying attention to the English because they know they’re going to get it in Chinese. Why not explain it in Chinese first so they have the general idea, then explain it again in English so they can comprehend your explanation?

i’m surprised that very few students actually want an all english class. it depends on the level, but even my advanced is happy that i can translate stuff pretty exact. i’m the slang king:

diao= freakin’ good
song= nerdy
pouh lun sway= rain on your parade
jia shing sway= up my pay
wouh yo shr ching= i’ve got something to do

some stuff is just faster to use a catchy chinese word. it makes it more homey! i have a time at the end of class whee students can ask me any phrases they’d like to learn. they say , “ran the man, how do i say … in english?” they like that part of the class a lot. i always tell them to make a list of stuff they wanna learn and ask me when they see me.

I use both, then less and less Chinese. I don’t know who the scientist is that said using body movements and flash cards are better than using a child/adult’s mother lounge to explain something (I’m not saying any one of them are better). If I’m talking to someone and a kid asks me what one of the words mean, I’m not going to go fetch some flashcards or do a dance to explain it. I just tell them in Chinese (I also like doing a dance and using flash cards, just not in every situation).

Most of the kids in the class I started with this semester didn’t have any English classes before mine, so I spoke Chinese all the time. It took me about a month before I got one of the girls to be comfortable speaking with me in Chinese (I can only assume it would have taken longer using only English).

Now everyone can speak using the material they’ve studied and the better ones will ask “May I speak Chinese?” before speaking Chinese. I only “yell” (I never really yell) at the kids when they’re using Chinese for things I know they know in English.

I use a little, more with newer classes. I guess I mostly use it in a passive way in so far as I let lower level students ask me things in Chinese and I’ll acknowledge/answer them. And there are moments where I’ll tell them off-topic stories etc. On the whole, though, I try to abide by the principles of an all English classroom as much as is possible here. Try to think of your own Mandarin learning experience in relation to this matter. Think on those times when you had to stumble and learn to communicate with someone who couldn’t offer you English as a life-line. A bit painful, but a real learning opportunity. One that I’d argue is better than someone constantly translating for you. And remember, Taiwan doesn’t sponsor native English speakers because their Chinese is so good.

When learning Chinese I much prefer classes be totally in Chinese. Most of the learning being done in class is in listening to the teachers explanations of a word. Not so much in the ‘weekly grammar points’ or whatever. My teacher doesn’t use flash cards or mimes, he just explains in sentences. If I don’t uderstand the first time he’ll explain in another way, or give examples of situations until I do understand. I feel like I have to use Chinese if I want to communicate - sometimes it’s really really hard, but I can usually get my point across.

Other teachers tell me, “If you don’t know a word, just ask me in English” or if they think I’m struggling they will just blurt out the English. It makes me feel like they’ve given up on me (plus it’s annoying because I’m about the only native English speaker in the class). They could’ve just said a quick sentence explaining the word and I would’ve got it.

I think being taught, especially abstract concepts in the second language makes it much easier to grasp. Sometimes if you translate something into the mother language, you can come close to the real meaning, but it doesn’t always work for every sentence or concept. I think it’s good to just give lots and lots of examples. I think that way, your brain learns it in the second language and doesn’t have to translate it from the native language every time. Makes it much more natural and easier to use in the real world.

I’ve never taught anyone, especially children, so I don’t presume to know anything. But I think, to use the above sentence “…and you?”, to just give lots and lots of examples. Just role play two people. “I’m fine, and you?” - “I’m fine too”, “I like our teacher, and you?” - “I also like our teacher.”, “I would like to offer my soul to Satan to get out of this class right now, and you?” etc. etc. then test on a student to see if they can reply. As soon as one of them gets it, they’ll probably just tell the other ones in Chinese anyway… but just keep going until everyone grasps it and can reply.

But I’d have to agree, trying to explain something that’s not class related to mop something up, or if a student has a problem they need to tell you about is just… well… retarded. Is that what they really expect of teachers? Crazy.

So, anyway, I prefer learning in an environment where only the language I’m trying to learn is spoken… but I am 21, not a 12 year old kid who doesn’t even want to learn a second language.

I have been asked not to since the parents are paying for a native English speaker and not a broken Chinese speaker, but I still do it with my youngest ones when there is important information to convey. I just am not a believer in the sink-or-swim school of Darwinism when it comes to learning another language at the age of 3. I have done “English sandwiches” (English, Chinese, then repeat phrase again in English) for the youngest ones. Once they are four, I have never used Chinese to get a mesage across, but for a child who is having their first experience in school, I think using their mother language is important to get them to trust you and feel comfortable talking to you, even if it’s still in their mother tongue at first. I feel that I have to use Chinese at times to figure out whether a child knows his numbers and just can’t say them in English or if he has no ability to count numbers, even by rote. I don’t feel it’s really fair to evaluate a child on cognitive skills solely based on his ability to convey his knowledge in English.

A few years ago, I had a little girl who was in tears every single day, always crying for her Chinese teacher to come and be with her. One day, after many futile attempts of trying to soothe her in English, she said something that ended with, “You don’t understand anything I am saying” in Chinese. A simple “Keshi wo ting de dong ni” was enough to stop the tears permanently and she was speaking English fluently within a year and a half. I’m sure she would have stopped crying eventually if I had never used Chinese and maybe have learned English (if only for survival in school), but why make her suffer for the time until she did just for the sanctity of keeping a purely English environment?

I believe there are a number of situations where it’s okay to use Chinese with a child in an English environment. I believe that it expediates rather than hinders their chances in learning English faster.

My general principle is that we use English to do all communicating (including instruction). Chinese can be used (sparingly and only if necessary) by students saying “how do you say (baihuo gongsi)”, or me asking “who can tell me how to say that in Chinese?” or just telling them “the Chinese is (qingjiao)”.

The most important thing is that we do all the actual communicating in English. Chinese can be used to help expand vocabulary or for me to make sure that the students don’t misunderstand a word.

People often say “why waste 5 minutes on pantomime, drawing and guesswork, when a few seconds telling them the Chinese word would suffice?” It’s worth remembering that that 5 minutes trying to get the word is probably going to get it stuck in the memory much better.


If they are older, then I whole-heartedly agree, but I think a child of 4 years and under would benefit from hearing the equivalent in their native language more. In my experience, I find that many of them are not aware that there are two distinct languages when put into an immersion program. There’s what they know and the teacher is just speaking gobbledy-gook that they can’t quite understand. I have found, though, that by using English-Chinese-English, my kids are producing English much faster than when I was using only English. Each year, I try doing it their way and then I wind up giving up and doing it my way in order to get results and gain the trust of the child, but only until they show signs of understanding English. I only use E-C-E in immediate situations, especially in behavior or conflict, or with an absolute beginner.

Sometimes, such as in the case of a child hitting another child, there’s no time to play charades.

Good point about small children not understanding English and Chinese are two distinct languages. I’ve noticed that and always found it a little weird. But that is the reality of a child raised in multilingual environment.
Agreed also about serious discipline issues too, or emergencies. I like what tetsuo500 wrote about his Chinese language experience, though. It mirrors my own. When the target language is the only language used, you develop real abilities in the language. I found I was able to understand what was going on very quickly. Since being on the receiving end of an all target language classroom, I’ve become a big advocate of them.

I’ve noticed quite the opposite. Before I started teaching, I read that this is often the case, but in my experience, even little 3 year olds someohow manage to differentiate them easily.


I like to use Chinese for discipline. Usually I’m Mr. English-speaking happy-go-lucky in the class, but if some kid is acting up too much, I’ll take him outside and tell him real sternly in Chinese to knock it off. Having that sort of dual personality is useful at times.