Inside Ranney's Mandarin Chinese Classes

A Q&A with World Language Teachers Yunlin Zhou and Shunyao Chang.
Mandarin Chinese is one of three world languages offered to Ranney students, beginning in our Early Childhood Education program. Here, instructors Yunlin Zhou and Shunyao Chang (see their bios at the end) describe their approach in the classroom. View a sample video.
How do you approach Mandarin instruction in the Early Childhood division (Age 3 and Pre-Kindergarten)?
Mrs. Zhou: Children have the natural ability to learn a new language when they start young. My approach in the Early Childhood division is to “make it real,” by creating a fun environment to nurture students’ interests in learning Chinese language and culture in an age-appropriate and engaging way. My method engages a child’s natural love of play through storytelling, singing, and dancing. Children are able to see and feel China through these experiences. For example, one exercise we do involves creating a “here and now” friendship with our classroom’s stuffed Panda Bear pets, Yuanyuan and his sister Meimei. Children know that Pandas Yuanyuan and Meimei come from China, and they all love to greet them in Chinese, using phrases such as 你好! (Hello), 谢谢! (Thank you),and 再(Good-bye). Additionally, the students work with Bee-Bot technology to foster an environment of exploration and repetition while also enhancing thinking skills and Chinese language learning.
How do you approach Mandarin instruction in the upper grades of Middle & Upper School?
Mr. Chang: My goal is to create a classroom environment where language and culture are taught inseparably, to emphasize the development of life-long learning in Mandarin, and to raise student interest and awareness in intercultural topics, as well as topics related to Chinese culture and society.
What can parents expect as their children transition from Lower School to Middle School, and then Middle to Upper School in terms of language skills and understanding of Chinese culture?
Mrs. Zhou: My goal in the Early Childhood/Lower School Division is to help students grow a solid foundation and strong interest in China and her culture. When the move to Middle School, they will have a basic knowledge of language skills, such as Pinyin (the Romanization system for writing Chinese) and tones for proper pronunciation. They will also possess basic knowledge of Chinese strokes, radicals, grammar skills, applications of word order, and sentence structure for reading and writing.  Most importantly, students will be able to hold a basic conversation in Chinese and understand its content with the appropriate cultural appreciation, such as when to use versus (you versus you, formal). They will also be able to use Chinese characters to describe their daily activities, such as days of the week, school activities, family members, sports, pets, and more. All of these skills are needed to further their coursework in preparation for Middle School Chinese.
Mr. Chang: Middle School students will gain listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills in Mandarin, specifically:
  • Listening: Students will be able to understand sentence-length utterances on topics such as self, family/friends, leisure activities, daily routines, food/beverage, school life, shopping, weather, traffic, and transportation.
  • Speaking: Students will be able to ask questions or craft sentences involving learned material. Students will master the Pinyin system and be able to pronounce learned vocabulary and short phrases with correct tones.
  • Reading: Students will be able to read simple texts on topics mentioned above, as well as standardized messages, phrases, or expressions (e.g., items on restaurant menus, traffic signs, schedules, timetables, and maps). In addition, students will be able recognize approximately 400 Chinese characters.
  • Writing: Students will be able to perform a variety of practical writing tasks, using fixed expressions and short sentences on the topics mentioned above. Written texts will include personal communications and descriptions of such information as background, experiences, preferences, and basic views. Students will be able to write approximately 200 Chinese characters and use Pinyin to input written communications for electronic devices, such as computers and/or cellphones.
Upper School students will gain listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills in Mandarin, specifically:
  • Listening: Students will be able to understand paragraph-length utterances pertaining to a wide range of topics relating to daily life, including living quarters, dining, shopping, the Internet, work, travel, etc.
  • Speaking: Students will be able to handle successfully a wide range of task-oriented and social situations related to the topic areas mentioned above, and participate in casual conversations. Students will be able to narrate, describe, compare and contrast.
  • Reading: Students will be able to identify key facts and some details in descriptive material on daily life and carefully written personal communications. Students will be able to discern connections between sentences in simple connected text. They will be able to understand some of authentic texts that meet basic personal and social needs, such as signs, public announcements, and short, straightforward instructions dealing with public life.
  • Writing: Students will be able to compose notes, simple letters, summaries of information, and other multi-paragraph pieces of writing.
In your opinion, why is Mandarin an important language for children to know in our growing global society?
Mrs. Zhou: Mastering one or more world languages, such as Mandarin Chinese, will help our children widen their horizon as they become responsible world citizens. Learning Chinese will help them to better understand China and her people, as the country has been seen as an increasingly influential player in all fields of today’s global society.
Learning a new language early in life also improves young children’s memory and analytic skills, strengthens their problem-solving skills, boosts abstract thinking abilities, and gives them a great advantage in learning other disciplines. For example, most Chinese characters are image words which reflect the nature’s elements and human life. Once students learn these characters, they begin to practice abstract thinking in ways that enhance critical thinking abilities, creativity, and collaboration across other disciplines. These skills can be applied in math, science, and arts, for instance, where a concept is better learned or understood through connecting with an object or a particular environment.    
Mr. Chang: Learning Chinese is becoming more important each day. The world has become increasingly multicultural and multilingual, as exemplified in the cultural and language diversity in the United States. I believe that teaching Mandarin Chinese language and culture is just a small part of language education. As a teacher, I am hoping to help students learn how to successfully navigate in Chinese speaking countries and to be active participants in a multicultural, multilingual society.
Of note, Mr. Chang’s Upper School Mandarin language students meet every six days with Ranney’s international students for a joint class. Many of the international students  are taking English as a Second Language (ESL), led by Ranney’s International Education Coordinator Mrs. Margaret Olson. They spend half of the class working on Mandarin, and the other half working on English.
Mrs. Zhou, a native of China, has been a Holmdel resident for more than 20 years. She taught Mandarin Chinese for six years at the Monmouth Chinese School in Marlboro, NJ. She is currently pursuing dual master’s degrees at Seton Hall University in Asian Studies with a Track in Teaching Chinese Language and Culture, as well as at Monmouth University in Corporate and Public Communication. Mrs. Zhou teaches Ranney’s Lower and Middle School students.
Chang, a native of Taiwan, moved to the United States since 2011. He received a graduate degree in teaching Chinese as a foreign language from Middlebury College in 2014 and a graduate degree in education from Castleton State College in 2013. Before joining Ranney School, he taught Chinese in a private secondary school in New York, worked as a teaching assistant at Monterey Institute of International Studies, and was a Chinese culture and language instructor at Castleton State College. Prior to pursuing his master’s degrees in the U.S., Mr. Chang earned a bachelor’s degree in foreign languages and literature with teaching certification in secondary school English at National Cheng Kung University in Taiwan and taught English at the National Tainan Commercial Vocational School. Mr. Chang teaches Ranney’s Middle and Upper School students.

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