A Welcoming Environment for Streamlined Chinese

Photo of a woman smiling and speaking.

Min-Min Liang, the instructor of 21G.107 Chinese I (Streamlined), shares her teaching insights in a new collection of OCW video interviews.

By Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director

What is streamlined Chinese?

MIT offers two different course sequences for students interested in learning Mandarin Chinese. Many of these courses are represented on OCW and can be found on the Global Studies and Languages course list.

One sequence, designated “regular,” is designed for students who have no background at all in Chinese. Another sequence, designated “streamlined,” is meant for students with some background, typically “heritage” learners who have spoken Chinese at home or taken some classes growing up. These students can usually speak some Chinese, but they can’t read or write it.

Not surprisingly, heritage learners have very different needs from pure beginners. OCW has just published 21G.107 Chinese I (Streamlined), the first in the streamlined sequence, that discusses strategies for effective teaching of heritage students. 21G.107 is taught entirely in Chinese, and the skill level of its students can vary a great deal, so the challenges are considerable.

How can the challenges be met?

On the course site’s This Course at MIT page, the instructor, Min-Min Liang, explains her approach to teaching streamlined Chinese in video interviews that have side-by-side English and Chinese versions. This dual-language presentation is a publishing first for OCW.

Screenshot of a two-column table of links to videos in both English and Chinese versions.

The 21G.107 Chinese I (Streamlined) OCW site includes dual-language video interviews.

After teaching the traditional method of drilling for many years, Liang realized that her students could repeat what they had learned by drilling but were incapable of holding a real conversation. Liang realized she needed a new approach.

How do you create a welcoming environment?

Now her primary goal is to create “a welcoming environment” so students can overcome their inhibitions about revealing their imperfect Chinese in front of others. Every class begins with five or ten minutes of “greeting,” as Liang calls it. Students randomly choose names of conversation partners and talk about what’s happening in their own lives. This allows the students to get to know each other, thus building a community in which they feel comfortable talking about a variety of subjects.

Meanwhile, the students are learning to read and write Chinese. Once students have developed some basic literacy skills, they are tasked with writing short essays at home. These essays then become the topics for further discussion in class. Liang praises students for venturing beyond their comfort zones, using new vocabulary and trying new things.

Where did the Language Lab go?

Technology is a big help. Liang employs an online tool called Lingt, developed by two MIT students. The tool is a kind of virtual language lab. Most students can understand simple written Chinese, but they can’t pronounce it. So using Lingt outside of class, they record themselves reading assigned passages. Liang then checks their pronunciations online, and this frees up class time to do more fun things, like talk about the weather.

What else can you do on the site?

The 21G.107 course site has a wealth of resources for students and teachers, including assignments and in-class activities for each of the course’s five modules. There is also an abundance of study materials, such as study notes for pinyin and characters, Chinese character exercises, writing assignments, and charts of required characters for each lesson, plus a variety of links to online tools and resources that help with writing and pronunciation.

21G.107 offers many ways to learn more about Chinese and how to teach it. Like the other courses on OCW, this site is available for free, 24-7, all year round. Pay a visit. You will be most welcome!

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