Primary Mandarin Chinese: Interview with Rhoda Pennington

This year’s conference features aIMG_2158 (2) primary strand with workshops from experts in Primary Mandarin Chinese Teaching. Rhoda Pennington from Highgate Primary School is delivering a workshop called ‘Designing a culturally rich and well integrated Primary Mandarin Curriculum’. We caught up with Rhoda to ask her about her view of teaching Chinese in a primary environment

1) As a primary teacher, how do you engage learners in the language and culture of China?

Repetition and kinetic language learning – Engaging primary learners in the language is the easy bit. The children are pre-programmed to be interested in and motivated to use language. The key is to find ways to build repetition into the lesson through songs and games to help with memorisation.

Demonstration opportunities – Primary children are mostly incorrigible show-offs and I exploit this in the classroom to motivate learning.

Songs and games – Traditional Chinese songs and popular songs are useful, but I also put together my own songs to fit the vocabulary and sentence patterns I am teaching. When it comes to playing games, primary children are the experts.

Engaging learners in the culture – The beauty of teaching primary Mandarin is that we aren’t confined to GCSE vocabulary requirements or significant time pressure. In the primary context, a good starting point is to encourage cultural comparison. Primary children love to see how children in other communities live.

2) What has been the effect on your learners and the school environment?


Our school is multicultural and the children are very used to learning about other countries and ways of life.  Nevertheless, introducing Mandarin to the curriculum has opened up an exciting new area of learning to the whole school and has brought us some fantastic opportunities.  We have become a Confucius Classroom and enjoy the support of the Confucius Institute who provide us with cultural activities and workshops as well as a Hanban teacher.  This Spring Festival, our Year 6’s entered the Chinese Embassy’s New Year competition for which they devised and acted in their very own Mandarin language film: ‘Monkey King visits Highgate Primary’.  They won the competition and were delighted to share the film with the school community.

3) You created the primary curriculum and input at your school, how did you set about doing that?

When I designed the curriculum, I was keen that Mandarin should feel very much an integrated part of the children’s learning day.  I therefore decided, where possible, to fit the Mandarin curriculum around the topic based school curriculum. In terms of the input, I was fortunate that my school’s leadership agreed to me delivering two lessons per week to each class.Lesson frequency really helps the children’s learning.  Having a Hanban teacher really helps with flexibility in delivering the subject throughout the school with our Hanban teacher Rui Li spending two very valuable mornings each week in Reception classes.

4) How would you like to see primary Chinese develop in the next five years?

The government has recently allocated £10 million to fund secondary Mandarin teaching and learning.  I would like to see primary Mandarin develop in tandem with the current push at secondary level. The establishment of a new qualification of PGCE Primary Mandarin Specialist QTS could be significant to the development of primary Mandarin.  In the meantime, I am keen for other primary schools to see what is possible with primary Mandarin and would welcome any who would like to visit our school and see what we are up to.

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