ACTFL Meeting (cont’d)

Report of Presentation by Jianhua Shen

On November 20-21, 2009, I attended and presented at the ACTFL (American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages) 2009 conference that was held in San Diego, CA. There were more than 49 panels presented from Nov. 20 and 21, 2009. I attended some panels related to teaching elementary Chinese and advanced level Chinese. I am teaching CHNS 110 and CHNS 154 at Yale now, so I am very interested in such topics as how to teach Chinese tones, how to teach advanced-level business Chinese, the pedagogy of formal written Chinese and how to improve students’ reading proficiency, etc.

Every Chinese teacher knows that Chinese tones are very hard for foreign learners and they (including me) try to find the best method to teach tones efficiently. Every student spends a lot of time and effort on Chinese tones, but some of them still have problems even after two or three years of study. I learned a lot from three Chinese teachers’ presentations: Liwei Jiao (University of Pennsylvania), Xiaoxiao Jiao (NYU) and Jinghua Yin (University of Vermont), who presented their papers about teaching Chinese tones. They analyzed the typical errors that students make on tones. When American students say the first tone, they always start too low, they say the second tone too high and they can’t get lower when they say the third and fourth tones. Another common problem is that many students can say individual words with correct tones, but they make mistakes when they say a group of words or a sentence. The professors at this panel introduced some useful methods that I found were ‘very helpful. For example, teachers can use comparisons when teaching first tone and third tone. Professor Yin introduced a series of rules to teach and practice Chinese tones, such as simplified explanation and more interesting ways of doing repetition exercises. These repetition exercises were unique and appealing to students in that students could practice tones by “singing” rhymed words instead of simple and boring repetition. He gave some interesting examples, such as using “ni3 ha03” to form a song to practice tones and using rhythm-based songs (almost like raps) to practice comparison sentence “bi3” in Chinese. I found his presentation very innovative, and it has given me many new ideas for implementing these
techniques in my own classroom.

Professor Chih-p’ing Chou (Princeton University) chaired a panel which attracted many listeners. His panel focused on advanced-level Chinese and there were three other professors presented at this panel, including Professor Yongping Zhu(University of Mississippi), Professor Lening Liu ( Columbia University) and Professor Chan Fen Sun ( Stanford University). I think Professor Zhu’s talk was very helpful. He talked about how to ask questions effectively and efficiently in higher level class, which is more important and much harder to teach than in lower level classes. He mentioned four basic principles: to activate students’ imagination; to inspire students; to enthuse students and to push students to speak. He used a lesson from a commonly-used textbook as an example to display how to structure and present questions in a more effective way. Professor Sun talked about how to improve students’ writing skills by presenting a sample passage to students and explaining it for the students to use as a model in their own writing. Professor Chou talked about improving the mastery of formal language through speaking. His talk focused on using movies as teaching material. He said that many teachers only record dialogue from the movie, and teach it to students. But that is not enough. Teachers need to extend the scope of students’ learning by implementing the dialogue found in the film as the foundation for further exploration, such as new vocabulary, grammar, and structure.

At another panel, Professor Wenze Hu introduced a new method of helping higher-level students improve their writing skills. He talked about students writing three drafts for summaries of reading materials before viewing it as the fmal product. After turning in the first draft, the teacher only guides the student towards his/her mistakes; the second time, the teacher corrects the errors; the third time, students are required to be able to recite aloud the material summarized without looking at their previously written summaries. I think this offers a very unique way of honing students’ writing skills, and will benefit the way that I teach writing to my higher-level students.

In addition to the ones I mentioned above, there were also many more useful and interesting presentations at the conference. I think I really learned a lot during the two days there. The conference was truly a conglomerate of new ideas and methods of teaching that come from experienced professors from all over the world. I think it really opened my eyes to the many different Chinese programs around the world and provided a great opportunity for me to interact with Chinese teachers from other schools.

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