In our global village that is the world, I have always believed in the importance of mutual understanding between people. Edward Sapir said, “Language is not only a study of language and culture, but ultimately of the world of relations and influence.” Verbal communication promotes understanding among people and as a result helps maintain peace and stability, economic prosperity, and opportunities for individuals from all backgrounds and social strata of the world. As a language teacher, I happily consider myself as and will always aim to be a boundary-crosser of communication between different languages and cultures. During my past years of teaching Chinese (as a second language) to students from all over the world, my teaching philosophy has developed into an integration of a global vision, enlightening theoretical foundations, and methods for practical, functional, and technologically innovative application.
Preparing students for a global vision and applicability
In the 21st century, many who play a key role in the world are imbued with a global vision and international communicative capability. Bilingual or multilingual people constitute groups of elites who lead trends of world development. As China plays host to the world's second-biggest economy, with an annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rate of 7.6% to 14.2% since 1991 (http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.MKTP.KD.ZG?page=4), with more in-depth economical, social, and cultural exchange between the West and the East, in particular the US and China, the job market calls for people who can speak both English and Chinese. In this sense, the Chinese classroom becomes not just a place to learn a different language, but more a platform for opening up a grand global vision for students, connecting them to a larger international picture, and positioning them in a leadership of world development. By providing students with thematic treatments of global processes and cross-cultural interactions from a variety of perspectives, I aim to instill a sense of human development from prehistory to modern times through consideration of narratives and artifacts from diverse cultures.
As languages affect the way we as humans view the world, the learning of foreign languages, including Chinese, entails a novel dimension for English speakers to learn about the world, to think about things, and to take actions on those thoughts. The Sapir–Whorf hypothesis, or the principle of linguistic relativity first proposed by Sapir (1929), pointed out that the structure of a language affects the ways in which its respective speakers conceptualize their world (i.e. their world view) or otherwise influences their cognitive processes. The studying of another language like Chinese, with dramatic linguistic differences and different cultural practices, thus opens a new window for students to view the world. With multi-linguistic and multi-cultural exposure in college, students can be more prepared to contribute in a global world and project themselves in a vision of playing a key role in an international society.
Fostering a student-centered classroom
With language teaching, the shift from teacher-centered approaches to student-centered ones represents a big leap forward. Here, teachers step out from the center of the class to a position “behind” where they act as facilitators to students’ language learning. In my own classroom, at the very start of each semester I always aim to discern and incorporate students’ native language, their motivation(s) and needs for taking the course, their preexisting knowledge of Chinese language and culture, and their preferred learning style. As an example, for those studying for business purposes I integrate authentic materials and up-to-date information beyond the textbook. In consideration of those studying because of a strong affinity for Chinese history and culture, I integrate culture information and highlights. In effect, by being aware of students’ background information, be they motivations, objectives, or preferred learning styles, my teaching aims to welcome students through a target-oriented approach.
Furthermore, I actively encourage students to participate in deciding what and how to learn via collaboration in designing and editing course syllabi. This has proved especially beneficial for special- focus classes—one instance being a class I taught on intensive business Chinese for students heading to China directly after the course. The collaboration was very well received and later proved to be very beneficial to students upon their arrival in China.
A further strategy for keeping students at the center of the class entails allowing them to self- supervise themselves, rather than be externally pushed by a teacher. Instead of giving students their final grade at the end of the semester, for instance, I provide students with access to their up-to-the-date grade. Their daily participation, assignment, quiz and unit test scores are all individually released online upon being figured. This allows them to check how they are doing in the class at anytime, from anywhere. This has proved to be a very effective strategy in keeping students motivated and working hard step by step.
Adopting an eclectic teaching approach
With the understanding that particular pedagogical methods are most appropriate in particular teaching contexts, I aim to apply various teaching methods and work to accommodate them to varying aspects of Chinese educational endeavors. Grammar translation, for instance, is useful at the initial stage of drill-based tasks for students to develop a better sense of differences between their native language and the target language. Audio-lingual activities also provide a helpful follow-up stage to intensive drilling. Typical examples and repeated drills further enable students to use vocabulary and grammatical patterns instantly. In addition, Total Physical Response (TPR) activities (e.g., “Simon Says”) help to liven up any class. During a 7:30-8:20am morning class I taught, TPR was always very refreshing and woke up students just like a cup of hot coffee. Overall, however, I utilize Task-Based (TB) language teaching activities in order to stimulate meaningful oral communication. Such activities are a great starting option for getting students to continuously talk in the target language for the purpose of developing their conversational fluency. Suggestopedia has further inspired me to create energizing classroom settings by incorporating music as well as different speaking intonations and rhythms to better attune students to the different phases of teaching. In sum, I feel there is no “must-do” teaching approach, but rather only those that are best suited to an instructional context.
Creating multi-media environments
To motivate students’ participation and to arouse their interest in the study of Chinese, I always aim to create a technology-supported multi-media teaching environment by providing students with all kinds of stimuli. I aim to introduce newspaper articles, websites, and video clips related to the textbook, and often use Youtube, PowerPoint, and Prezi to break class routine and let the students have more fun in their study of language. At the beginning of class each day, before officially starting, I always play a brief video with subtitles to liven everyone up. Students are encouraged to send me clips of their favorite Chinese songs, Kung-Fu scenes, or movie clips which they would like to share with the class. I then select one to play before class starts each day. For PowerPoint, I include animations and vivid pictures, which prove excellent for generating students’ feedback. Prezi, and the spacing of ideas, has also proven particularly effective in the instruction of vocabulary review and paragraph retelling. Students are also more engaged when they are asked to complete the assignments I designed online in forms of wiki, blogs, discussion board, forums, and Podcast, etc., Overall, students’ feedback shows that such multimedia- based teaching contexts have allowed them to more actively engage and enthusiastically participate in class.