On teaching advanced Chinese: A report from ACTFL ’13

I attended the ACTFL conference in Orlando, FL, on November 22-24, 2013, serving as the chair of the panel  “Genre and Style in Chinese Teaching” and presenting my paper “Shumianyu (formal written Chinese) and its relevance to teaching advanced Chinese vocabulary”. My paper focused on a structural analysis of compound phrasing patterns in formal literary Chinese and discussed how these common patterns are reflected in the vocabulary and grammar that an advanced student of Chinese must master. The paper was received positively and my colleagues gave me some great feedback.

I also attended several other panels related to the teaching of advanced Chinese. A paper, titled “Pedagogical Material Design for Four-character Chinese Idiom as Cultural performances” analyzed the Chinese idioms in existing pedagogical materials and proposes that the idioms should be treated and learned as cultural performances conveying intentions as opposed to as lexical items with meanings presented out of context. In existing materials, idioms are provided with little more context than example sentences. Performance-based materials would provide cultural and situational context along with examples of use and reactions. I’m happy to learn that a team from Ohio State University is working on video materials for teaching idioms now.

Another paper, “The Effect of Text Conversation on Chinese Speaking proficiency at the Advanced Level” discussed how to engage in activities converting narrative text style into conversational text style and their effects on the development of learners’ Chinese speaking ability. The participants shared ideas about how to help students to develop well-rounded speaking skills and the problems they encountered, which led to a discussion about the gap between advanced students’ oral reading abilities, an area in which I’m also working. We had a great discussion and exchanged ideas on how to improve it.

Many papers talked about using high-tech teaching methods. Presenters shared their experiences using iPads, Google Drive, smartphones, and other technologies in the classroom.  I was especially interested in a panel titled “Oral Proficiency Assessment: An OPI-based, computer-simulated approach.” The presentation was concerned with the design of the Computer-Simulated OPI system, a model for future online oral assessments, and the advantages, disadvantages, and different applications of normal and computer-simulated OPI. Of course, computer-simulated OPIs are not yet as sensitive in their assessments as normal OPIs, as the program cannot respond as dynamically to student input as a human interviewer could, but it provides a useful, easy, and cheap alternative. In particular, computer-simulated OPIs will certainly prove useful in providing an initial assessment of language proficiency when processing large numbers of students for course placement.

All in all, the panels I attended were very stimulating, and I was able to get a lot of new ideas to apply to my teaching. I’m excited to see what new ideas my colleagues present next year!



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