Using textbooks w/ Chinese translations

I’m interested in other teachers’ opinions regarding the use of bilingual textbooks.

The current ‘language learning’ philosophy in Taiwan is immersive study. In class, students aren’t aloud to speak, read or write Chinese. Teachers are asked not to use Chinese. New material is presented in English, defined and explained in English via words, whiteboard sketches, and pantomime. The schools in which I taught kids would not even allow the kids to use bilingual dictionaries.

Immersion study works. It’s how I had learnt English until I moved to Taiwan. It’s how Taiwanese learn Mandarin. It’s normal.

However, I don’t think it’s the most effective way to learn a second language. The assumed goal of any student (and/or student’s parent) is to be able to use proper English as quick and inexpensively as possible. (This, of course, contradicts the goals of school owners and possibly teachers, but let’s slice that off as a separate topic.)

Even if we neglect the fact that English study in Taiwan is hardly immersive since students live such a small portion of their lives in an all-English environment, immersive study is very slow in the beginning; new vocabulary can only be expressed with other new vocabulary. Unless a teacher is skilled at sketching and miming, a student is lost. Abstract ideas are impossible to teach until a student has spent considerable time understanding lesser abstract ideas.

I agree that, in English class, students should listen to and speak in English. However, I disagree with the use of English-only texts and dictionaries. Students often already have a firm foundation in Mandarin before starting to learn English. They already can communicate abstract ideas and can read and write vocabulary for these ideas.

So, why waste the limited time these students have in English class by playing Charades to teach vocabulary when in a fraction of a second students can understand the definition of words by reading them in their own language?

The analogy might be a town using narrow dirt roads and horse-drawn buggies. The wisest way to accomodate cars is not to knock down all the buildings and rebuild the city with wider paved roads; but it is to pave over the dirt and make the streets one-way. By the time the use of cars becomes too great for the downtown streets, the suburbs and superhighways will have already sprouted, and the old downtown will be made quaint, quiet and for pedestrian traffic only.

My stance is that students should have textbooks with Chinese translations and be allowed to use Chinese-English dictionaries; however, they shouldn’t speak Chinese, nor should the teacher.

For those of you who use Shi-Da’s textbooks to study Chinese, you might realize how much faster we can learn Chinese than if we had to use an all-Chinese text. After just one year, we understand how to talk about politics and religion - things that Taiwanese adults typically cannot speak in English about even after several years of studying using English-only texts.

Whew… out of breath… pant.

About immersion learning.

Well it probably depends on the age group.

After seeing, working for, workign with and advising a lot of kindergartens, I am convinced that immersion is definitely the way to go.

It’s not about teaching by charades, but providing an environment where they learn the words through listening, observation and experimentation. You don’t do charades, you do the real thing.

For older learners I think translation and first language explanation of advanced points can be used sparingly. The pronlem is that a lot of the time there are no good translations for words. Again it is better for the students to learn through example and context.

For adult learners even a high level of immersion is good. My first Chinese class was 95% no-english, and extremely effective.

A final point about the ‘charades’ - trying to figure out what thus word is aspect of learnign in the target language. A teacher could just say English word X means Chinese word Y, but firstly, the process of trying to figure out the meaning of the word makes it a lot more likely to stick in the memory than just giving a direct translattion, and secondly, the examples that the teacher gives as part of the explanation provide information about the way the owrd can be used - eg is the meanign narrower or wider than the English equivalent? Can it be used both figuratively as well? etc


Immersion is the way to go in my opinion. You do have to use some of the student’s native language for explanation. It’s also key to have peers explain ideas in the target language(preferably) or in the native class language.

The problem with immersion is frustration, time, and money. It’s frustrating to not be able to comprehend what is going on with the clarity you have in your native language. It also takes a lot of time. People want things quickly. Most peple are willing to pay more or accept less if they can get what they want now. They want the gratification of having or learning something immediately. Immersion takes time. Starting at kindergarten and working up to grade school, students will have a more natural command of the target language they were immersed in and be better able to explain and have ideas explained in the target language.

Key point overlooked is discipline. I can tell within 1 minute if a new first grade anchingban student has had bilingual kindergarten with a foreign teacher, bilingual kindergarten with a Taiwanese teacher, Chinese only kindergarten or no kindergarten at all. Their level of discipline and self motivation get worse with each following option. Kids who have been raised by indulging grandparents are some of my worst students with the worst English, discipline and self motivation. Kids crave discipline and structure. As a teacher, your duty is to provide discipline, motivation, and an open learning enviroment. If you can’t understand any of this, then you need to question what and how you are doing things and the results you obtain.

I will not use Chinese or Taiwanese with kindergarteners. If they ask me something in Chinese, I will respond in English. With anchingban and buxiban, I will use the Chinese or Tawanese to explain ideas or have another student do it. The use of TPR, clear rules and a reward system are critical. TPR(toatl physical response) is often overlooked. Ironlady wil go on about how this is useful for teaching Chinese and I think it goes just as well with teaching English. With TPR and “Simon says,” You can teach critical listening skills that often frustrate less experienced teachers. Plurals with s at the end, listening instead of copying, phrasal(sp?) verbs are 3 critical points off the top of my head. You also need to review and change material every 1-15 minutes.

Equating the teaching of English in the public school system and to the private school system is a mistake. Public schools, junior high and senior high buxibans generally teach for tests. Whereas Kindergartens, anchingbans, and some buxibans generally teach for natural use with a slight emphasis on the testing of English in school. I find the use of discipline native speakers of whatever ethnicity to be a key component to actually using English. Students who have had only Taiwanese teachers, generally aren’t as proficient in the spoken use of English and have the annoying tendency to think that I will give them the answers to any question along with the extraordinary overuse of common phrase, “I don’t know” for the simplest of things that have been explained twice in English and once in Chinese. :x

I also think that you confuse what Chinese talk about with what westerners talk about. Please reference Brian Kennedy’s excellent description of the meeting idiot, for key points. I find that Chinese have little desire to talk about politics or religion in English. Sex is a far better conversational topic, especially with women 30+ years old. They don’t necessarily have the same views or history of religion or politics that westerners have. This is not necessarily a society based on logic. I find logical thinking to be a great disadvantage when I deal with Taiwanese. They are raised quite early on Analects of Confucius, 36 strategies, 24 filial stories, and Mencius. None of these except maybe the 36 strategies lends itself well to critical thinking or logic. I would call all of them except 36 strategies highly emotional and illogical.

Just my thoughts,

Good points, guys.

For kindegarteners, I agree that “all-English everything” is probably the most logical method. Kindies really don’t have enough of a Chinese foundation to facilitate learning English (to bridge from one to the other). Furthermore, their minds are so pliable and absorptive at that age - and the Kindy-level English so basic - that immersion is more efficient for their age group.

However, I believe that beyond grade 5 or 6, using bilingual texts and dictionaries is more efficient; again, with efficiency meaning “being able to communicate in English as cheaply and fast as possible”.

Also, keep in mind that while I absolutely agree that no Chinese should be spoken in class, I firmly believe that students, especially older students, should make use of bilingual study materials (with accurate translations of course). I don’t think the role of a teacher is to present vocabulary and grammar as much as it is to offer an environment to practice and get coaching. (Unfortunately, most kids won’t study material outside of class, so the duty of a children’s teacher includes presenting and reinforcing ‘static’ material as well as offering ‘dynamic’ practice.)

I am speaking from experience in teaching older kids and adults as well as from studying several languages myself. I tend to study the material in the text, memorize it even, before sitting down with the teacher.

What I need from her (the teacher) is communication practice, minor clarification of grammar and vocabulary, and pronunciation correction. To have her try to explain all of the material in Chinese to me would be a complete waste of time (except for an overload of listening practice for me); I already understand the English translation of the material.

What is your take on teaching older people?

Here’s what I came up with for teaching kids (3-4 year olds). I had my co-teacher explain to them in Chinese that their parents pay a lot of money to have them come here to learn English. Then they were told that if they wanted to speak Chinese they had to ask (in English) “May I speak Chinese”. That seemed to work just fine.

The end result was all the kids spoke English. Whenever they heard a word they didn’t know or wanted to say a word they didn’t know in English, they asked me. It was really interesting watching those kids pick up new words so fast. I’d tell them what a word was in Chinese (or explain it in English) and they’d almost instantly start using the word in English.

I don’t think full immersion if benificial until one reaches a high level of language skill. In the Chinese class I had (all in Chinese) I hated having stuff explained to me in Chinese. It was much faster just looking the word up in English. Most words have an almost identical counterpart in the 1st language. Those that don’t can be explained in the 1st language and then one can try using it in the 2nd language until one understand it’s usage.

There are so many words that it would be a waste of time to explain in the 2nd language (for children and adults). For children we use flashcards to explain, how is that different from just telling them in their mother tongue?

Me: Blah blah blah blah baseball.
Kid: What’s baseball?

Answer #1
Me: (No flashcard for baseball) It’s that game when a guy throws you the ball and then you hit it and run (while I’m doing all the actions).
Kid: :?

Answer #2