2018 Conference – Motivating Learners of Chinese in UK schools


The 2018 Annual Chinese Teaching Conference will take place on Friday 15th and Saturday 16th June. The Conference will host a range of teaching workshops as well as plenaries on different subjects, including approaches to motivating learners of Chinese. Dr. Yongcan Liu from the Faculty of Education at Cambridge University will deliver a plenary about different approaches to teaching and motivating learners of Chinese in UK schools. Dr. Liu spoke to us about challenges faced to those learning Chinese as well as the moral responsibility of supporting children and youth to become global citizens in an open world.

Dr Liu.jpgCan you tell us a bit about your Conference plenary ‘Changing hearts and minds for an open world: An identity approach to teaching and motivating learners of Chinese in UK schools’?

In this talk, I will present an innovative approach to teaching and motivating learners of Chinese in UK schools based on an identity-focused intervention. The idea is based on the education strand of a large interdisciplinary project (MEITS project – Multilingualism: Empowering Individuals, Transforming Societies) funded by AHRC under the Open World Research Initiative.

In the education strand, we look at whether and to what extent we can change secondary school students’ attitudes towards language learning through participative identity-oriented activities. The research is conducted in the instructed MFL classroom context involving French, German and Spanish. I will discuss how the participative principles can be applied to teaching and learning Chinese in UK schools. The main message that I want to get across is that traditional language pedagogies, which tend to focus on the acquisition of language forms (character, pinyin, grammar, etc.), can be enriched by a participative paradigm which is premised on the notion of identity. I will further link identity to the concept of Global Competence which is crucial to achieving UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Teaching Chinese is therefore not merely about teaching the language but involves the moral responsibility of supporting children and youth, based on nation/state to become global citizens in an open world. Teaching UK school children to speak Chinese as a global language is an important pedagogical goal while supporting them to become global citizens who are willing to speak world languages is another.


What do you feel are the biggest challenges facing learners of Chinese in UK schools?

As in all types of language teaching and learning across the world, there are a lot of challenges at the policy and practice level. Among all the challenges that learners of Chinese in UK schools are facing, I want to highlight two of them.

The first challenge is the lack of exposure to the target language. In comparison to
German, French, Spanish, UK pupils’ exposure to Chinese is significantly less and the classroom contact time is in general limited. Structural change to the school system such as significantly increasing teaching hours is unrealistic, which thus poses the biggest challenge to learners of Chinese. One of the most effective ways to solve this problem is to develop students’ autonomy to learn. As sociocultural theorists would argue, we need to foster permanent structural change in children’s learning capacity so that they can discover the interest and master the skills to conduct new learning by themselves. 授人以鱼,不如授之以渔。

The other big challenge is brought about by technology which has fundamentally transformed the way we work, learn, live and derive pleasure. School pupils, like adults, are swamped by information, most of which is unwanted. The way school pupils are expected to learn is also different from that thirty or even ten years ago. Learning has become more and more patchy and fragmented and learners more and more distracted and impatient. Curiosity and creativity, which are essential in learning, particularly in language learning, are lost. Indeed, children have been deprived of a free space, both mental and physical, to think, to play, to enjoy and to create. To change this situation in the current society is difficult, but it is not impossible with appropriate guidance and support of teachers and parents.

How do you feel approaches to motivating Chinese learners in the UK have changed in recent years?

This is an interesting question. There are many new approaches and I will just briefly mention three which I find particularly interesting. The first approach is gamification of learning. Children love to be engaged in interactive, technology-enhanced, game-based activities. This is related to the youth culture. Gamification has successfully integrated what children do in their life into learning which typically happens in a formal setting. The second approach is narrative-based learning. Children like stories and much research has shown that learning is a storied way of knowing. Chinese, due to its close relation with Chinese history and culture, makes it a good candidate for narrativisation. The final approach that I would like to mention is arts-based learning which is related to what I call ‘a multimodal participative paradigm’. Many theorists and practitioners believe that through involving in the process of expressing self through arts and performances, children are provided with an opportunity to develop their language, thinking and motivation through multimodal affordances.

Dr. Liu’s plenary will take place on Friday 15th June. To see the Conference programme, please click here

To book a place at this year’s Conference, please follow the link: Conference Booking Page