Modern Foreign Languages - How I learned Mandarin

You don't have to know the language to start teaching it

I thought it was a good idea. Propose to my head that we teach Mandarin Chinese at Madeley Academy and that I should be responsible for delivering it.

The English Baccalaureate had sparked debate about students' entitlement to a foreign language, and to my mind Chinese was more useful than many other languages.

I did have some minor concerns: I'm an ICT teacher, I'm in my NQT year and I can't speak Chinese - I'll come back to that.

I was, however, enthusiastic and convinced that there are few languages more valuable to our students in a world that already seems to have "Made in China" stamped all over it. So I strode into my head's office and asked permission to run a Chinese Club. I was lucky: he was supportive and I advertised the club around the school.

I turned to the internet and was amazed at how much there was out there. My favourite was Growing up with Chinese, the online series provided by CNTV, the Chinese national broadcaster. As a club, we loved it because it delivered it to us simply, and word by word the students learned the basic phrases.

I still had nagging doubts about whether the club would work. The concept of tones was tricky, and the pronunciation of pinyin, which transcribes Chinese characters into the Roman alphabet to make the language easier to learn, was still a challenge. The recognition of characters was almost mind-boggling. But, as weeks went by and with numbers steady at about 15 students, I found myself the recipient of the occasional "Ni hao", "laoshi hao" and "zai jian" as I moved around the school.

But the greatest barrier to the club's success was me. I still didn't know enough Chinese. Then, during a conversation with the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust's Confucius Institute, I was offered a spot on a three-week intensive language course in Beijing. Deep breath, head's office again. My luck was in. He was still supportive, and I found myself at Beijing Normal University talking Chinese to Chinese tutors and sampling Chinese food on street corners.

So, the weeks are passing and I have high hopes. As a club we'll push for qualifications and I'm sure my language ability is sufficient to get my students where they want to be. I thought it was a good idea - now I know it's opening the doors of their future.

Matt Tipton teaches secondary ICT at Madeley Academy in Telford.



LanguageRen has shared some popular Mandarin lesson plans which can help cover basic greetings and activities.

In the forums

Teachers have offered advice to an MFL teacher on choosing language schools and programmes for learning Chinese. Or you can join the debate about which languages we should be teaching in MFL. Should French be ditched for Mandarin?

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