Astrid Fiess, head of German at Handsworth Grammar School, joined the 2016 Experience China course in Shanghai. She told us about her experience before and after the trip, and how it has helped the school grow in the offer of Mandarin lessons to the students.
Question 1: Nihao Astrid, can you tell us what prompted you to apply for the Experience China 2016?
Our head teacher had been thinking about whether offering Mandarin as an extra-curricular option would be something we could do in the MFL department of our school and had been looking for a teacher but unable to find one. I had already started learning Mandarin privately with a course at a local provider and the Pimsleur audio course. Therefore I suggested that, if I applied for the course in Shanghai, which was aimed at UK language teachers, I could perhaps be able to run the club myself.
Question 2: What did you expect before you actually arrived in Shanghai for the course?
I was excited and looking forward to the course very much as it is always vital to visit the country where the language you learn is spoken. I was hoping for an intensive course, which would help me improve rapidly. Moreover, I was looking forward to being able to use the language in an every-day environment and meet other learners of Mandarin in a similar situation.
Question 3: What was the learning experience like whilst in Shanghai?
I made really good progress in the language lessons and it was fantastic to be able to focus on just learning Mandarin for the two weeks. Also, I found the experience of using the language and learning more about the culture of China very rewarding and stimulating. I really enjoyed the language classes but also the cultural sessions like calligraphy or Tai Chi. The accommodation was lovely and close to the teaching rooms. Moreover, there was a great atmosphere in class; everyone was keen to learn and the participants were very open, friendly and supportive of each other. The teachers were also very nice and patient with our efforts. After the lessons, the participants from the beginners’ courses as well as those from a course for UK Mandarin teachers with degrees in the subject, which was running at the same time, often went out together to explore the area.
Question 4: Could you tell us a bit more about the growth of Mandarin provision in your school?
I started a Mandarin after-school club with participants not only from year 7 to year 13 but also including a colleague. It ran very successfully for a year. For the following year, my school was able to employ a native speaker, who is now running two Mandarin clubs; one for beginners and one for the students who are continuing from my original club the year before. Additionally, Mandarin was introduced as an enrichment option for year 12 students (also run by the new teacher). Moreover, the school also has given me half an hour every week with the Mandarin teacher to continue studying the language one-to-one. I still help out with the club and the enrichment sessions occasionally, e.g. I helped organise and run a visit to a Chinese restaurant where we ordered food in Mandarin and had a lovely meal – a real experience for the students.
As mentioned before, there was no Mandarin provision before I went on Experience China and the visit definitely transformed a vague idea into reality. We are planning to continue the after-school club(s) as well as the enrichment programme for 6th form as the students are enjoying them very much. I really want to go back to China to improve my language skills and I am planning to go there to attend an intensive course in summer 2019.
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