An­ti­dote to Rote

An en­quiry-based Pu­tonghua course cre­ated in Hong Kong is tak­ing the world by storm, writes An­nemarie Evans

Hong Kong Tatler - - Schols Guide -

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

love of lan­guage

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