Author: Merica McNeil

Chinese teacher training was offered by the Confucius Institute at the University of Arizona on Saturday, December 7 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. This event was co-sponsored by CERCLL and attended mostly by K-12 teachers of Chinese working in Arizona. The morning workshop was led by Dr. Wenhao Diao, who recently joined The University of Arizona as an Assistant Professor in the Department of East Asian Studies and as an affiliated faculty member in the graduate program of Second Language Acquisition and Teaching. Prior to moving to Tucson in August 2013, Dr. Diao completed her Ph.D. in Second Language Acquisition at Carnegie Mellon University. Dr. Diao has taught Chinese language, culture, and applied linguistics at various institutions including Carnegie Mellon University, Middlebury College, and the University of Virginia as well as at East China Normal University in Shanghai, China, where she earned her B.A. and M.A. degrees in Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language. As an applied linguist, Dr. Diao is especially interested in the intersection of language and culture, particularly in Chinese. To read more about her background and recent publications, see: She is teaching a class on Chinese language teaching methods this Fall semester at the UA, which she’ll teach again in two years; this workshop brings some of that course to the K-12 community. You can also see her present a paper at January’s 2014 Intercultural Competence conference where the title of her talk is: Study Abroad: Being a Laowai or Becoming Like a Chinese.

In Dr. Diao’s workshop entitled “Communicative Language Teaching for Chinese: When, How, and for What Purposes?” she provided clear explanations and examples of how to effectively use communicative language teaching (CLT) in teaching Chinese. After the introduction and rationale, Dr. Diao briefly demonstrated three language teaching methods including grammar translation, the audio-lingual method, and CLT, which focuses on promoting language learners’ communicative competencies. She explained the goals of CLT, which include grammatical, discourse, sociolinguistic, strategic, and actional competences. As she emphasized, in CLT, students use the target language a great deal through communicative activities, which enables them to develop their communicative competencies. Dr. Diao explained how the teacher’s role in CLT changes in various stages of the lesson. More specifically, in the beginning, the teacher acts as a facilitator by preparing effective materials and tasks. When students are doing the communicative tasks, teachers should circulate to see how students are doing, answer any questions, and note where students are struggling. After students have been doing their tasks in small groups, the teacher should address problems, answer questions, and provide clarifications as necessary.

Throughout her workshop, Dr. Diao provided valuable examples of materials and tasks that she designed and used for teaching Chinese, many of which included authentic materials from pop culture. She pointed out that such materials and tasks contain linguistic and cultural content, which can motivate students because they are relevant. One sample included a multimodal poster and discussion questions. A second sample provided a picture strip story from a Chinese comic strip. The original text was deleted, and students needed to create their own interpretation of what was happening. In a third sample called scrambled sentences, each student was given a sentence in Chinese, and students were asked to read their sentences aloud to put themselves in the correct logical order, standing in a line.

The fourth example involved a role play in which some students were employees at the post office, and other students had specific requests or issues. After two minutes, students rotated so that they spoke with five different people, which promoted fluency and enhanced confidence. At the end, students voted on the best staff member in this example activity, which is appropriate for intermediate-level students. Dr. Diao highlighted that key aspects of effective role plays are that they encourage students to initiate, respond, and react. In addition, they include an information gap, meaning students need to communicate in order to find out the missing information from each other to accomplish the task. The role that she provides each student has a description and a specific need, which necessitates students using strategies to solve one or more problems.

Some other examples, which Dr. Diao used included short videos, one of which was of the Chinese version of The Voice, a transnational reality television singing competition. After demonstrating multiple examples, Dr. Diao reviewed how all of them included key elements to promote effective CLT: information gap, choice, and feedback. After highlighting several advantages of CLT including promoting fluency, Dr. Diao also mentioned some of CLT’s limitations. She explained that one challenge of CLT is to develop learners’ accuracy because it can be difficult for a teacher to listen to each student and give individual feedback. Furthermore, because of the preconceptions that learners may have of what language learning should be, some learners may not appreciate CLT. Thus she concluded that CLT is not a cure-all.

In the last part of her presentation, Dr. Diao provided several strategies for specifically promoting accuracy in Chinese pronunciation. She emphasized that language learners need to pronounce correctly because most Chinese people are not accustomed to foreigners’ speech. Since Chinese pronunciation poses great problems for language learners, Dr. Diao provided numerous useful strategies based on her own extensive teaching experience. For example, a teacher can use hand gestures to show students the direction of tones in Chinese pronunciation. She also showed a chart with the International Phonetic Alphabet and gave specific examples of how to help learners produce certain sounds that are typically difficult for English speakers to acquire.

The afternoon portion of the workshop included talks in Chinese by two local high school students who won awards in the 2013 Sixth Annual World “Chinese Bridge” competition: Anne Zlatow and José Antonio Gonzalez Mendoza. Each of these students talked about their experiences learning Chinese over the last four years. They also discussed their participation in the “Chinese Bridge” program, which enabled them to go to China and immerse themselves in the language and culture, an experience they both cherished. When responding to questions from the audience, Anne revealed that motivation was a key factor for her. She said that she loves learning Chinese and practices outside of class all the time, including talking with her friends outside of school and taking additional classes on the weekend at the Tucson Chinese Cultural Center. José shared his keen insight when explaining that if you can learn Chinese, it shows that you can do anything if you work hard enough. This reminds me of Malcolm Gladwell’s idea that if you do something for 10,000 hours, you can become an expert in that area.

At the end of the workshop, audience members were left inspired by these two students’ linguistic accomplishments and motivated to use CLT techniques that Dr. Diao so deftly demonstrated earlier in the day to promote students’ communicative competency.

This workshop was one of a number being offered to Chinese teachers by the Confucius Institute at the University of Arizona and CERCLL. More information will be on available on our websites and you can sign up for announcements on CERCLL’s mailing list here: UPDATE LINK

For more information about the Confucius Institute at The University of Arizona, click here