News & Events

Puzzle Pieces Coming Together

Posted on 13 Dec 2013 in Teachers News

New to Chinese, Alison Castle reflects on her first term.

I’m now 9 weeks into my beginner level Chinese course. My brain still hurts after class, for sure, but dare I say it’s just got a little bit easier?

It’s actually pretty astonishing how much I’ve  learned in just 2 months. We’ve had lots and lots of new vocabulary and of course every new word has the challenge of remembering the meaning, the tones, how to read it and then how to write it.  I’ll be the first to admit that there is no way I could write all the words I’ve learned – yet – but I’m surprised at how many words have really sunk in and I’m tackling listening passages and reading without too much trouble.

We’ve been using Discover China 1 (Macmillan / FLTRP), and although my teacher doesn’t do every lesson and every activity in class, I still have the books to go back to at home. And that’s key. What Discover China does really well is it gives you a chance to learn in stages and exposes you to new words in different contexts, and through different skills.  You move logically from a new vocabulary presentation (both in written and listening format), then hear all the words in a really natural conversation.  But not only that, you do it in steps so you first have to listen to get the gist of it, and then for specific information and there’s a task to complete for every bit of listening.  And the same goes for the reading – you’re not expected to get it all in one go, that would be impossible – but if you do it several times and each time read for something different you then end up understanding the whole text.

We did a great activity to pull all the language together from Units 1-4 as a review.  By now we can introduce ourselves and members of our family, say where someone is from and where they live, talk about occupations, our likes and dislikes, and describe people. That’s pretty good going I think in two months.

Our teacher gave us a picture of the British Royal Family and asked us to pretend that someone in the picture was a family member.  We had to work in pairs and talk about who they were, where they lived, what they did, how they looked, and what they liked.  He asked us to just write down key words that we needed, and then tell our partner about our family member. The partner had to take notes so they could tell the rest of the class about what they’d heard. To finish off he had us write up our descriptions (in pinyin was fine) but in complete, grammatically correct sentences. A perfect recycling activity that used all the skills and that was fun. And of course, Prince William was my husband…!

To end on another positive note, I passed my first exam and I’m really pleased. A month ago, I really thought learning Chinese was going to be impossible, but I’m slowly learning that like with most things, pieces of the puzzle start to come together and then it all makes more sense. And I’m looking forward to my next class in the New Year!