Teachers as researchers

Action research in Mandarin Chinese classrooms

1. Investigating the intelligibility of Anglophone young beginner learners of Mandarin Chinese by Rob Neal

Set within the context of teaching and learning Mandarin Chinese at a comprehensive secondary school in the North of England, I investigate the intelligibility of five Anglophone young beginner learners of Mandarin Chinese. Audio files taken from the learners’ role plays were sent via email to five Chinese students at a senior high school in Beijing who were invited to transcribe what they thought they had heard in Chinese characters. Particular attention was paid to areas where the raters had transcribed a different character from what the speaker had intended to say. Working at the syllable level, the source of the breakdown in intelligibility was categorised as either being a result of the tone, or the initial consonant of the syllable or the final part of the syllable deviating from the standard form, or a combination of two or all three of the factors. While it was difficult to be certain about the exact cause of the intelligibility breakdown, it was argued that participants’ pronunciation problems ran far deeper than non-standard tones which have been the focus of the majority of research into Chinese as a Foreign Language (CFL) pronunciation studies. An increased focus on initials and finals, alongside tone, was proposed as an appropriate pedagogical intervention.

Intelligibility, CFL, Pronunciation, Speech Perception, Young beginner learners

About the author
Rob Neal studied French and German at the University of Birmingham. He then taught English at a senior high school in Shizuoka, Japan as part of the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme. He subsequently obtained a Masters degree in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages from Lancaster University before teaching English for two and a half years at Peking University. Rob currently teaches Mandarin Chinese at an inner city comprehensive school in Manchester on a part-time basis whilst also studying for a PhD at the University of Cambridge. His research involves looking at the intelligibility of Anglophone young beginner learners of Chinese.


2. Improving the Proof-reading Skills of GCSE Mandarin Students’ Preparing for Written Controlled Assessments, by Victoria Allen

This research document looks at the issues facing Key Stage 4 pupils who are preparing for the written section of a UK GCSE Chinese examination with the AQA examination board. In this section of the GCSE pupils are expected to write at least 150 characters in Mandarin Chinese on a topic chosen by their teacher. Their time frame for writing the piece of work is sixty minutes. The aim, through action research, is to improve the students proofreading skills in Chinese and to raise their overall grade.
The research looks at the pupils’ accuracy throughout this process. The project raises awareness of the importance of proofreading with the class, and it trials four different techniques with the students while recording their opinions and attitudes. The four methods below were trialled with one GCSE class, all pupils were aged 16 at the time. They were preparing for their written Chinese controlled assessment, before taking their GCSEs in the summer:
1. Reading work aloud;
2. Peer marking;
3. Whole passage reading for sense;
4. Reading the line from right to left to focus fully on the formation of characters.
The results of the action research will show which technique the students used, which they found to be useful and which they continued to use. It will also shows to what extent students improved their controlled assessment grades by proofreading their work in detail.


Chinese/proofreading techniques/GCSE controlled assessments

About the author

Victoria Allen has taught Mandarin Chinese and Japanese in UK secondary schools since 1994. Currently teaching at Torquay Boys’ Grammar School in Devon, she is Head of Oriental Languages and is responsible for the school being accredited as a CLEC Confucius Classroom. She was awarded ‘Outstanding Teacher of the Year’ in 2012 by the UCL Institute of Education Confucius Institute.


3. An investigation into the most effective strategies for beginner Anglophone learners to read and write Chinese characters by Paul Tyskerud, Jia Ding & Yu Bin


The present investigation was designed to address a key question about our practice which is; what strategies pupils believe to be most effective for supporting them to learn to read and write Chinese characters. In addition, the investigation was aimed at filling a current void in research into how Anglophone learners learn Mandarin. A sample group of beginner learners of Mandarin from two UK secondary schools completed two questionnaires prior to and post intervention period. The intervention period involved teachers introducing and familiarising pupils with the three seemingly most effective strategies for non-native learners to support them to read and write Chinese characters. The questionnaire gauged learners’ opinions of the most effective strategies. A second sample group of teachers completed the same questionnaire based on their perceptions. Results showed rote learning for writing to be the most favoured strategy by both pupils and teachers. Rote learning was also favoured by pupils to be most effective for reading, whereas teachers preferred the use of radicals. Implications for practice were discussed as well as what further research into Mandarin learning strategies would be useful.

Reading and writing strategies, Chinese characters, Anglophone learners

About the authors

Paul Tyskerud: After graduating with a degree in Psychology from Cardiff University, Paul Tyskerud worked as a British Council language assistant in China between 2006 – 2008, studying Mandarin part-time during that period at Suzhou University. After training for a PGCE in Mandarin and French at Sheffield University, in 2009 he began the Mandarin department at Dartford Grammar School focussing on developing the curriculum at both GCSE and IB level and also training new teachers entering the profession. His Mandarin department were awarded UK Confucius Classroom of the Year 2013 by the Chinese Department for Education. During his time teaching Mandarin in the UK, Paul presented at the annual National Conference for Mandarin Teachers on three separate occasions, worked on sabbatical as Curriculum Development Coordinator for the UCL Institute of Education Confucius Institute, and worked with the UK Department for Education on video projects to demonstrate how pupils studying in the UK can learn Mandarin. In September 2014, Paul moved to Spain to introduce Mandarin at The British Council School, Madrid. In 2014, Paul joined the Confucius Institute’s Mandarin teaching Action Research group and completed a Masters in Teaching at the IOE in September of the same year.

Jia Ding is a teacher of Mandarin Chinese at Altrincham Grammar School for Boys. Her first degree was in Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language from Zhengzhou University and she has also obtained a Master’s degree in Educational Policy from the University of Sheffield. Jia has gained considerable Mandarin teaching experience at Sheffield University’s Confucius Institute and various schools in Sheffield. She is interested in researching how to teach Chinese characters.

Yu Bin is a teacher in the School of Chinese as a Second Language, Peking University and is currently working for the UCL Institute of Education Confucius Institute. Her research areas include the acquisition of Chinese as a second language and language education, with a special interest in Chinese character learning strategies for English speakers.


4. Cultural Activities and Learning Chinese at Chinese Complementary Schools in London, Danlu Wang

The integration of culture activities in the second language curriculum has become prevalent in recent years. In the settings of London Chinese complementary schools, teachers and parents often believe Chinese cultural activities, such as cultural performances, concerts of Chinese music and contests on Chinese cultural knowledge to be beneficial for learning Chinese and understanding Chinese culture. This report on action research draws from accounts of pupils (aged 13 – 18) in these schools, together with the author’s observations from working as a teacher in one such school. It aims to explore how Chinese school pupils see these cultural activities in regard to their Chinese learning experiences and cultural identities. The paper begins with an overview of Chinese complementary schools in Britain and their annual national cultural activities. The diversity of students in these schools is then highlighted in analyzing the contrasting attitudes towards Chinese cultural activities. Pupils who participate in cultural activities mostly give positive feedback. However, it is worth noting that only a small number of pupils participate in and therefore benefit from such cultural activities. Furthermore, some cultural activities help to construct stereotypical images of Chinese culture and an essentialized Chinese identity. Many pupils express feelings of embarrassment and antipathy towards such activities; such feelings in turn may hinder their language learning. The findings of this paper have implications for Chinese teachers and schools, for teaching with better cultural awareness.

Key words:
Chinese complementary school, cultural activities, learning Chinese, cultural identities

About the author

As a centenary scholar, Danlu Wang is currently completing her doctorate in education at the UCL Institute of Education, University College London. Her research interest lies with cultural identity studies and teaching Mandarin as a second language. She studied Journalism at Renmin University, Beijing, followed by a Masters degrees in Global Communication at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and in Social Anthropology at the London School of Economics. She also worked as a GCSE Chinese teacher in Chinese schools in London for four years and as a journalist for newspaper and news agencies in China.