Aim: To introduce phonetic peculiarities of Chinese (syllables, sounds, tones); to introduce writing (radicals/ parts of characters); to introduce word formation principles; to show that Chinese is not that difficult, as many people think. And to introduce the TA principles which will be present at the lessons in the future.  

Duration of the lesson: 2 lessons = 80 minutes.

Age of students: 16, complete beginners.

LESSON 1 (40 min)

Task 1. Each student receives several travel agencies' leaflets in Chinese and has to answer the question: how to write the words "address", "website" and "telephone" in Chinese. KEYS: 1) find the contact information part and analyze it; 2) compare several leaflets and see which words are repeated; 3) think about the meanings of the words, eg, "address" and "website" both refer to a location and you can see the same characters in these words. RESULT: the students learn that one word consists of two characters (on average), that each character has a meaning and can be used for word formation in combination with other characters, that one of the word formation principles in Chinese is, eg, combining two notions to get a third one (electricity+speech=telephone).

Task 2. Look at the texts in your leaflets, what do you think about the characters? Answer the question: if you need to learn characters, how would you do it? KEY: look at them, do all characters look the same? What makes them different? Can we say that characters are written similarly to words written with letters? (It's not true, actually, that radicals are letters, but it helps reduce the panic and sets the right direction for learning writing.) 

Task 3. Each student receives cards with radicals (parts of characters) and has to find them in their texts. Either in combination with other radicals or alone. KEY: no thinking, just careful searching. RESULT: yeah, at least there's some logic in writing. But still it's so chaotic, is it possible to learn it???? (The key: learn the meanings of the radicals and invent associations, and write write write, you need to train your hand.)

LESSON 2 (40 min)

Task 4. Phonetics. Names of Chinese neighbours written on the board. These are complete beginners and to ask them what these words mean is a waste of time. So, the KEYS: the map of China with the surrounding countries and the word "Tai wan" are added to the list. This helps to guess that these are countries and even the names of some countries, like "Ta ji ke si tan". The pronunciation of this word in Chinese is quite similar to what we are used to, but reading other words requires a bit of knowledge (both of Chinese phonetics and geography). So, the KEY: go to the map and match the names in Chinese and English. RESULT: at least some words, such as geographic names, are universal for all languages. And, there are syllables in Chinese, not random letter combinations. Finally, some letters and combinations of letters in English are represented by certain syllables in Chinese.

Task 5. Guess what those marks above the letters mean. Right, intonation. To be more precise - tones. Can you read with the tones? KEY: look at the lines, imagine these are arrows, follow the arrows. RESULT: yes, theoretically we know how to pronounce tones (upwords or downwards, or somehow else), but practically there's a lot of training in front, for the voice to get used to the tones.

THE RESULT: the main features of Chinese have been presented and tried. Several students decided not to come anymore and study Japanese instead. Poor kids, they don't know that Japanese seems easy only at the beginning, while Chinese becomes easier after the first shock is overcome :) The basis for the next lesson was built. And although there wasn't so much discovering during the next lesson, it was more like testing their findings from the previous lesson, for me it was much easier to work, because I could simply say: "Look, where does the line go? So what do you do with your voice?" or "What do you think these characters mean if there is a woman in each of them?" and they would find the answers themselves. Seems to be a happy ending... But, it's only the beginning :) :) :)     


# Alexander Sokol 2011-12-11 16:22
as you know, I always like your discover based lessons. I am sure this was a nice introduction into Chinese. Would have enjoyed being there :)
If we are speaking about bringing it further, I'd also think along the lines of getting the students to become aware of HOW we can cope with challenges. The discovery based approach you've described is more about becoming aware of challenges (which is nice - Step 1 in our framework) but what happens then? This could be an interesting point to explore and I am sure it's possible.
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