This week we are pleased to be interviewing Lucy Wicks, who will be presenting the workshop “Progression in Phonics: Developing Learners’ Confidence in Speaking” at our 19th Annual Chinese Teaching Conference.


Lucy Wicks is Head of Mandarin at Didcot Girls School. She is a very experienced teacher and is interested in incorporating phonics elements into her teaching. Take a look at her teaching video to learn more!



Hello Lucy, could you share a some background information about your workshop?


After reading the Ofsted review on Languages Teaching in 2021 which emphasised the “3 pillars of languages: Vocabulary, Grammar and Phonics”, I became interested in the explicit teaching of phonics.

At first, I didn’t believe that phonics teaching should be regarded as having the same importance as other aspects of language teaching. After all, I did not recall receiving any formal teaching on the pronunciation of any of the four foreign languages I teach – I just had a perception that it relied on being a good “parrot” and having a ”musical ear”.

However, I have also taught many students who are afraid of making mistakes, nervous of their speaking exams and cannot seem to master the basics of pronunciation, no matter how much I correct them. So, I set about to make pronunciation and phonics more visible and more fun in my teaching.


What do you hope attendees will learn from your workshop?


I would like to share the results of my classroom experiments, give teachers practical takeaways and to challenge misconceptions about how pronunciation can or should be learnt.


How do you improve student engagement in progression in phonics knowledge?


By tackling phonics head on, students learn to become more confident and less fearful of making mistakes. I honestly believe this is one of the most important skills teachers of any subject can give to students. Some students love competition, others love performing and some like to know how well they did.


If a student has difficulty with Mandarin pronunciation, how would you suggest helping with phonics?


Listening, listening and more listening. Listening to songs is the best way as the melody sticks in their heads and they are motivated to listen many times – I challenge them to find Chinese songs they like on their own and introduce them to me! My students also enjoy rhythmic Tang poetry, which supports the need to teach authentic texts.

We can also support students’ speaking by using Sentence Builders (we’d probably need a separate workshop to talk about this!). Essentially, this removes the assumption that students can build sentences spontaneously. I encourage reluctant students to make the most nonsensical sentence from the sentence builder!


Phonics is an area that can be overlooked in a time-pressured teaching environment – what advice would you give to colleagues, to ensure this area of language teaching isn’t neglected?


Although I have started to teach a short phonics segment to classes every other lesson, I don’t see its benefits as limited to just improving their pronunciation. I found that phonics sessions can also enhance students’ listening skills, develop cultural understanding, expose them to authentic texts and generally build their confidence to seek out new learning experiences independently of the teacher and outside the classroom (such as searching for songs and trying to pronounce unfamiliar words). I hope teachers find the workshop useful!


Thank you, Lucy!


We look forward to welcoming ticket-holders to Lucy’s workshop on Saturday 1st October at the IOE.

Click here to see the full programme for this year’s Annual Conference and book a ticket .