Conceptual Breakdown of Foreign Language Teaching

A Conceptual Breakdown of Foreign Language Teaching

(See also my explanation and definition of some key terms, especially “concepts” vs. “skills”)

(See also an explanation of the footnote about handwriting vs. typing)

I have the privilege of teaching three different subjects at Peizheng College: English, music, and Chinese (coming soon is a report on how my first semester of Chinese teaching went). I’ve found that in each of my courses, students benefit greatly from having the huge task that is set before them (“learn English / music / Chinese”) broken down into more manageable pieces.

While there are several ways to analyze and divide the task of “learning something,” I’ve found a very useful model is the breakdown into:

  1. Concepts
  2. Skills
  3. Materials

My father provided me with such a breakdown for teaching music, and that inspired me to create a Conceptual Breakdown for Foreign Language Teaching.

(Please see my explanation here for definitions of some of key terms, especially “concepts vs. skills”)

Although I wrote this mainly to assist teachers of English, I imagine it could help teachers and students of Chinese as well. For example, this bog focuses almost exclusively on the skills of speaking and listening, although I do have an occasional post about hanzi (reading and writing).

What skills does your class, blog, website, etc. focus on?

Here are some examples of how each of the nine concepts relate directly to difficulties faced by English speakers learning Chinese:

  1. Pronunciation = Pinyin chart, the “ü” sound, etc.
  2. Intonation / Rhythm = 5 tones, 20 tone combinations, etc.
  3. Penmanship / spelling = Different styles of handwriting characters, traditional vs. simplified, etc.
  4. Punctuation = The mark used for enumerating lists, titles appear in 《》, etc. (see also Chinese Punctuation at Wikipedia)
  5. Grammar = Word order, the use of “le” , etc.
  6. Vocabulary = Individual words (“apple” = píngguǒ 苹果), phrases, idioms, chéngyǔ 成语, etc.
  7. Context / setting = “1″ can be written as or , and can be pronounced as “yī / yí / yì / yāo” depending on the situation, “ràng”  can mean “let / ask / make” someone do something depending on the situation.
  8. Organization = Chinese friends may leave out or delay what English speakers consider to be essential introductory information, etc.
  9. Culture = “She is a chicken” in English means “she is cowardly” but in Chinese “she is a prostitute.”

Which of those concepts do you have questions about? Which are you weakest in? Strongest in? Which ones are you going to focus on next?

These are just a few examples to give an idea of what each concept includes. There are certainly overlaps between them, and they flow throughout the skills as well.

I hope this model will provide a useful framework for analyzing, discussing, and making decisions about your own learning or teaching of Chinese, or any other language for that matter.


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  1. 5 Responses to “Conceptual Breakdown of Foreign Language Teaching”

  2. Paul Condrell (a.k.a. "Laokang") CHINA said:

    As a language teacher, I much appreciate your summary, especially it’s brevity. It’s a good reference to use as I do lesson planning.

    Thanks!

    Comment date: Jul 27, 2013

  3. Harland UNITED STATES said:

    Wow, I forgot this blog existed. Hurrah for ever-vigilant RSS. Well, I guess it was a good run while it lasted.

    Comment date: Jul 27, 2013

  4. Albert CHINA said:

    @Harland,
    Hahaha! Touché. I forgot it existed myself until I suddenly decided to write on it again.

    @Paul Condrell,
    As they say on the Simpsons, “Brevity is…wit.”

    Comment date: Jul 27, 2013

  5. Jason INDIA said:

    I liked your approach or way of simplifying the things. I never came across any such method of learning. Many of the people who learn Chinese leave it when they are learning as they face difficulties. You have put it in a very nice and simple way. This will help such folks.

    Comment date: Jul 30, 2013

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