Is it easy or hard to learn to communicate in Chinese?

China Seminar Series 2020: "Is it easy or hard to learn to communicate in Chinese?", a talk by Dr Clare Wright.

People at a table outside of the Students' Union signing up to a course

On Thursday the 2 July 2020, the Sheffield Confucius Institute invited Dr Clare Wright, Lecturer in Linguistics and Language from The University of Leeds to deliver a talk titled “Is it easy or hard to learn to communicate in Chinese?”

Over 30 participants joined the talk, including teachers and students from the Sheffield Confucius Institute and external participants including staff from the University of Leeds, Leeds Business Confucius Institute and Xi’an International Studies University.

The talk itself focused on the various teaching techniques used when teaching Mandarin Chinese, with particular focus on the challenges encountered in the Chinese language learning process as well as reference to research studies that have been conducted into the MOOC-based learning. “MOOC”, which stands for Massive Open Online Courses, is an online course designed to maximise unlimited participation in a course accessed online.

Dr Wright began by explaining the considerable jump in interest that British people have in learning Mandarin Chinese. Having increased significantly in recent years, Mandarin Chinese is now ranked 7th most popular at GSCE and 4th most popular at A Level. T

The significant increase in interest in learning Chinese further emphasises the importance for adequate language learning courses and teaching practises. She went on to point out the challenges faced by both students and teachers, in particular the focus on memorisation techniques as well as logistical constraints on study opportunities in China and language exposure in the UK.

In reference to the research conducted into Chinese language learning, Dr Wright highlighted the difficult in retention of Mandarin Chinese beyond HSK Level 1 and students’ readiness for Chinese characters at Level 3 onwards.

With restricted exposure to language learning (typically 3 hours a week), few out of class activities combined with a wide variety of students needs, there are immediate constraints on keeping students engaged with Chinese to a higher level. This is to the extent that there is often dropout at early stages, e.g. Beginners Level 1 in the learning journey due to these challenges.

As part of an ongoing study in collaboration with the University of Southampton and The University of Nottingham, Dr Wright went on to examine research into the reasons for learners to learn Mandarin Chinese in the first place, from beginners HSK Level 1 and 2, as well as Intermediate Level 3.

It was pointed out that HSK Level 3 is typically used by university-level degree students seeking bursaries/scholarships to study abroad in China. In comparing the motivations for learning Chinese, there was emphasis across all levels on the immediate interest that students have in the language itself. From Level 3 upwards however, the shift and focus was on future study abroad and the potential for finding a job in global industry.

The research highlights the importance for retaining student levels beyond Levels 1 and 2, which can both benefits the students own language learning as well as further improving Chinese language teaching methods.

As with many other CI’s in the UK and around the world, the Confucius Institute at the University of Sheffield plays an important role in joint collaboration between the UK and China, as well as providing high quality Chinese language teaching to all its students. By providing training and language learning opportunities for its teachers and students, the SCI strives to continuously improve the quality of teaching and promote Chinese language learning.

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