Championing Chinese language in Kiwi classrooms

Mandarin Language Assistants are helping to bring Chinese language learning to life in New Zealand schools.

Hong Huang was studying teaching Chinese as a second language in China when he heard about an opportunity to complete an internship at a New Zealand school.

Now a Mandarin Language Assistant (MLA) at Rotorua Boys’ High School, Hong helps the school’s Chinese teacher by developing teaching resources and sharing his language and culture with students.

The graduate teacher was drawn to New Zealand because of what he had heard about the country and its teaching methods, which he says are quite different to his home country.

“It’s more about discipline [in China]. In New Zealand the kids are more free, they can do whatever they like to do as long as they obey the rules in class,” he says.

RBHS students at the 2018 Wellington Regional Chinese Speech Competition

Rotorua Boys’ High School students at the 2018 Wellington Regional Chinese Speech Competition.

“The class is totally different. In a Chinese class students have their own classrooms, so the teacher moves to their classrooms to teach. In New Zealand it’s different, teachers have their own classrooms and students come and go.”

Different procedures and systems require different approaches to teaching and each have their own advantages, Hong says.

“In China we give students their textbooks to take, but in Rotorua Boys’ High School we collect all the books after class. When the class finishes the books remain in the classroom and when they come they can study, which limits the kids’ learning time. In China they can learn after class because they can take their books back to their house and learn.

“We have a small size of classroom here [in New Zealand], one class is approximately maximum 30 students, but in China it’s about 50–60.

“The small size will be easier to manage and the study more efficient for both teaching and the students’ learning.”

Rotorua Boys’ High School Chinese teacher Wendy Chen says having an MLA helps her to cater for the different levels of fluency in her class.

“We don’t have a big number of students in the Chinese classroom but we normally have a very multilevel class, so with the MLA we can provide more attention to each student and more opportunities to practice,” she says.

“We can also get students to experience more Chinese culture. This year my MLA set up the Chinese club after school to give students the opportunity to experience things like paper cutting, Chinese music and calligraphy.”

Once the MLA programme is over, the school will continue to teach the subject (which they have offered for over 20 years) by using the resources developed by the MLA.

Encouraging cultural awareness

Waakaranga School students practise writing Chinese characters.

Waakaranga School students practise writing Chinese characters.

Waakaranga School teacher Michelle Mowth says having an MLA has also given teachers and students an opportunity to learn Mandarin and experience cultural aspects about China.

“Having the MLA in the classroom to demonstrate how to teach Mandarin has been a great support for our teachers,” she says.

“The children truly benefited from this as our school is a culturally diverse school, which consists of a large group of Mandarin speakers.”

The MLA at Waakaranga School helps students find enjoyment in learning a new lan

The MLA at Waakaranga School helps students find enjoyment in learning a new language.

While the MLA has taught Mandarin classes for the past two years, the school is now working on building their classroom teachers’ capabilities.

“During this time the teachers were building up their knowledge and confidence to teach Mandarin. To sustain it we have now moved on from the MLA teaching all lessons to now being the ‘assistant’,” says Michelle.

“This year, the teachers are confident enough to teach the lessons with the help of the MLA. Our MLA will model one week and the teachers will teach the following week.”

By working towards creating a sustainable model for their Mandarin language course, Waakaranga School aims to continue encouraging students to develop cultural awareness and find enjoyment in learning a new language.

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