Pandemic Penmanship: Teaching Mandarin in the age of COVID

by Aurora J.

Ms. Zhang is the high school Mandarin teacher here in Duxbury. She also believes that what makes Mandarin an appealing language choice is that a student might choose it if they are looking for a challenge. What makes Mandarin a challenge is that it is harder to learn than Spanish or French. It can be used if a student wants to have a job in China, since it does have one of the largest economies it would make a good choice if a student was going into a business field.

Teaching remotely has been challenging for many teachers but Ms. Zhang hasn’t been having much trouble. 

“I’m a younger teacher” she said “and I know my technology very well.”  

The thing that was most difficult with remote teaching for Ms. Zhang was that she couldn’t give out as many handwriting assignments. 

“[I prefer students to] do more handwriting because I think handwriting is more important,” said Ms. Zhang.  

It is especially critical for the underclassmen just arriving in the high school with the class entitled Mandarin Two. Those in Madarin Two are just starting to learn.

“Starting their journey to learn Mandarin is better with more handwriting,” said Ms. Zhang. 

The younger students need more practice writing chinese characters but the writing has been cut down to when students take their notes. Several short writing assignments have also been switched so that they need to be typed and turned in online. Although it is harder to give writing assignments during this school year, there are other alternatives like typing on the computer. Students with the help of a Mandarin teacher can change the keyboard settings so the student can switch from typing in English to typing in Pinyin which would be the English pronunciation of Chinese characters.

There is also one other assignment called Mandarin Words of the Day. In this assignment, students are given three Chinese characters and have to make a sentence with each one. All of the sentences for each day are usually due by the end of the week. Although the students still get practice, they could get more if it was a normal school year.

Ms. Zhang grew up in a coastal village in China called Dalian. The name itself is Japanese from when the village was under the control of Japan. When Ms. Zhang was out of high school, she went to college in London, England majoring in Philosophy. She also studied economics. After college she worked in an investing firm. Later, unhappy with her work and wanting to be with her husband in America she decided to quit her job and moved to America. She got a masters degree in education and decided on teaching Mandarin, because she is proud of her culture. 

Ms. Zhang hopes that in the future she’ll be able to take some of her older classes to China where they would visit Beijing learning about it’s history. They would also visit ChengDu, the hometown of one of her favorite animals, the panda. Ms. Zhang hopes to be able to see all her students in person by the fall.

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