18th Annual Chinese Teaching Conference: Pre-Conference Plenary Q&A with Andrew Scrimgeour, University of South Australia

Our CI is delighted to welcome Andrew Scrimgeour to our Annual Chinese Teaching Conference this year, where he will be delivering a pre-conference plenary on Friday 10th September, on the subject of the Conceptual Understanding and Developing Print-literacy skills in Chinese.

For those of you who attended our 2019 Conference, you will undoubtedly remember Dr Jane Orton, with whom Andrew co-authored Teaching Chinese as a Second Language: The Way of the Learner. Andrew is also based in Australia, where he has been involved in Chinese teaching since the early 1980s. He lectures in Languages Education at the University of South Australia and undertakes research in Languages Education with a focus on literacy development, learner diversity, curriculum design and teacher training for Chinese language learning in schools.

He is currently involved in several projects, including the development of a quality assurance framework for a Chinese bilingual program and as lead researcher on a project to assist the Australian government in developing a strategy and plan for languages education on Australia. He has been Vice-President of the national peak body of language educators, The Australian Federation of Modern Language Teachers Associations (AFMLTA) and is currently editor of Babel, the refereed journal of the AFMLTA.

In anticipation of his pre-conference plenary, we caught up with Andrew to ask a few questions about his talk.

Q. Hello Andrew and welcome to our conference, what a great opportunity for our teachers to hear from you! What are the key messages you are hoping teachers will receive from you?

A. The fundamental message in Chinese teaching at present is – for teachers – to try and understand ‘how do learners see this?’ That is, to try to approach their teaching by trying to view learning – that is their teaching practice, their resources, their textbook in particular- through the eyes of their learners.

By doing so, it might trigger some thoughts in teachers around how learners may best approach the task of learning Chinese, and taking control of the challenges that second language learners face. So we will look at this ‘learner’s perspective’ in relation to character teaching and textbook representations of character learning.

Q. In your plenary you will be speaking about developing literacy skills in learners, from the perspective of teacher knowledge and experience, and textbook representations of the system; could you tell us a little more about how we can use these resources?

A. One challenge we face is trying to teach adolescent learners BASIC skills in writing in a new orthography.  We don’t want to treat them as child-like learners – but we still need to address basic skills – but in a more conceptual way. So … what we see in textbooks – in terms of how characters are introduced and how learners are to “learn” them needs to be rethought and reflect their developing conceptual skills – rather than relying solely/ predominately  on ‘rote memorisation’.

Q. In your book, you discuss the need to draw the learner’s attention to the salient features of the Chinese system, those being strokes and sequence, and components- could you say a little more about how to approach this in the classroom?

A. Its a challenge to summarise – but salience relates to things which are apparent and relatable. In our own writing (in English) we construct letters from strokes and words from letters (using some very unusual spelling protocols). So Chinese can be seen in a similar ‘salient’ fashion – that strokes make components and components make characters – often with meaningful connections between components and the whole character able to be drawn. If we learn to write at stroke sequence-component level (and learn to name them) then character writing / recognition is a matter of identifying the sequence of simpler, recycled components. That’s the proposition.

We have been exploring these ideas in Australian classrooms, at junior primary, primary and secondary levels.  I really appreciate this opportunity to explore these ideas in the UK context and to working with teachers as they develop their practices, their ideas, their resources into the future. We face many challenges in making Chinese accessible to learners and engaging them productively in that process. The more we collaborate and share experiences – the better the outcomes for our learners.

Thank you very much Andrew, we look forward to hearing more from you in September!

Plenary details:

When: Online via Zoom, 12.30-13.30 (UK time), Friday 10th September. Places for Andrew’s plenary are free, but must be booked in advance and separately from our conference tickets.

Places will be limited and priority will be given to QTS teachers based in the UK, so please do book early to avoid disappointment. 

To book a place for this plenary, click here.

To book a place for our conference, click here.

To purchase Teaching Chinese as a Second Language: The Way of the Learner, click here.