Antidote to Rote
An enquiry-based Putonghua course created in Hong Kong is taking the world by storm, writes Annemarie Evans
ong kong, take a bow! A new interactive Chinese language course that was developed in the city is rapidly spreading around the world. Mandarin Matrix was jointly devised by Hong Kong educational publishers Professional Publishing People (P3) and the English Schools Foundation (ESF), and trialled across the ESF’S nine primary schools. It’s now used by more than 200,000 students across 21 countries—and is poised for further expansion.
The course is aimed at primary pupils who don’t speak Chinese as their first language and are accustomed to an enquiry-based curriculum. It combines traditional textbooks, teaching materials and guided readers with an interactive online classroom that is designed to entertain and engage children—and to encourage them to complete their homework.
ESF Chinese adviser Wang Xiaoping says the group decided to produce its own course five years ago, when it switched from weekly to daily Putonghua lessons for all primary pupils—and found there were very few books and materials available.
“There was a scarcity of Chinese readers for second-language learners, so that prompted us to develop something of our own,” he says. “When I went to school on the mainland, the teacher had a piece of chalk to write on the blackboard and any dictation was done via a large reel-to-reel tape recorder.”
However, such chalk-and-talk methods don’t suit children who learn their other subjects through enquiry-based approaches and need to be kept engaged, says Wang. The ESF wanted one system for use in all its primary schools alongside other published learning materials, so it linked up with P3 to produce the course materials.
Mandarin Matrix now comprises 335 titles, including 240 guided readers, 48 big books, textbooks, teachers’ packs, flashcards and audio CDS. There are readers aimed at secondary students and at pre-school children aged three and above. The course is used in all ESF primary schools, while most of the group’s secondary schools use the advanced readers and the online classroom. Many international schools in Hong Kong have also adopted the programme.
The guided readers range from short books that aim to build a child’s first Chinese characters to increasingly elaborate storybooks, as pupils work their way up through seven colour-coded attainment levels. Illustrated by Hong Kong cartoonist Harry Harrison, all the readers are available in both print and online versions.
Each week, the teacher assigns a number of readers for a child to work through along with an exercise and a test, plus online practice in calligraphy. Children learn language related to anything from items of clothing in their bedrooms to cookery, dragons and hobbies. Online readers have buttons next to recently introduced Chinese characters to click on for Pinyin and English translations, and print versions have a list of translations at the back of the book. In total, 1,750 Chinese characters are taught through the course. From left: South Island School students Kabelan Arrumugam and Remi Lever learn Chinese through Mandarin Matrix; the interactive language learning programme is ipad-friendly
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