Getting to grips with Mandarin grammar teaching – Interview with Prof. George Zhang

‘Getting to grips with Mandarin grammar teaching’ is a two-part course to develop the ways in which you approach grammar in the Mandarin classroom. This course will apply contemporary MFL approaches to grammar teaching.

Part 1 of ‘Getting to grips with Mandarin grammar teaching course’ will take place next week (17th and 18th October). There are still places available on the course. Please click here to book your place on this free, very interesting and extremely useful course.

The course will be written and delivered by Professor George Zhang and the Confucius Institute for Schools’ director, Katharine Carruthers.

We caught up with Professor Zhang to ask him some important questions about Mandarin grammar and advice for those teaching Mandarin grammar.

Dr Zhang is a Professor of Chinese and Director of the Centre for Modern Languages in Richmond, the American International University in London. Previously he was the Director of SOAS Language Centre, University of London and the Director of London Confucius Institute, the first CI in the UK. He has been involved in many projects related to Chinese language learning and teaching, including the first EU co-funded European Benchmarking Chinese Language Project (EBCL), which he coordinated between Nov 2010 and Oct 2011. Professor Zhang was the Chair of British Chinese Language Teaching Association (BCLTA) between 2006 and 2008 and is a member of a number of Chinese national language specialist committees. He was awarded Honorary Fellow by the Chartered Institute of Linguists in 2010. Professor Zhang has researched and published on language policy, language learning and teaching, teacher training, intercultural communications and cross cultural business management. He is the author of a number of books, including Chinese language textbooks, of which the Chinese in Steps series won the Outstanding International Chinese Teaching Material Award in December 2010.


Professor George X Zhang, BA, PG Dip, MA, PhD, Hon FCIL

How long have you been a teacher of Mandarin for?
I have been teaching Mandarin for over twenty years in the UK, mostly in universities, but I work closely with schools and other education and training establishments too.

Can you tell us more about your experiences of teaching Mandarin, particularly grammar?
I believe that if teachers have a good understanding of how their learners learn Mandarin, if they are sympathetic with their learners, they will always endeavour to look for effective ways to help their learners. That is very much what I have been trying to do myself. Grammar teaching is not the purpose, but a means of teaching Mandarin more effectively. This is reflected in my own teaching, teacher training and in the textbooks compiled for English speaking learners of Mandarin, Chinese in Steps.

Can you tell us what you have planned for ‘Getting to grips with Mandarin grammar teaching’ course? 
The three sessions planned for the programme are:

1) What is grammar?

2) A contrastive analysis of Chinese and English grammar;

3) How to teach Chinese grammar?

How will the ‘Getting to grips with Mandarin grammar teaching’ course help teachers?
It will help teachers to develop an understanding about whether Chinese grammar is useful. If yes, what grammar, how does it work, and more importantly what and how to teach it to different learners/students.

What do you think is the most difficult thing about teaching Mandarin grammar?
Integrating the teaching of Mandarin grammar with the teaching of Mandarin language and Chinese culture in an economical, enjoyable and fruitful manner.

Can you give us your 5 top tips for teaching Mandarin grammar?
1. Be sympathetic to your learners and try to understand why and how they learn Mandarin
2. Develop your knowledge of Mandarin grammar
3. Be sensitive to the grammatical problems of your students and search for best solution to help them
4. Do not lecture your learners on grammar
5. Make grammar teaching unnoticeable but integrated in your teaching of Chinese language and culture