Some months ago we were contacted, among others teaching Chinese, by the BBC. We were approached about taking part in a documentary programme where Chinese teachers would be put into a UK school for a period of time. The programme sought to highlight the positives and negatives of the Chinese school system. I wrote a ‘thanks, but no thanks’ email back to the researcher as I didn’t feel it was relevant to what we offer at Little Dragons.
We watched the resulting documentary series, “Are Our Kids Tough Enough? Chinese School” on BBC2 with interest, but little surprise. I think it really should be called, “Are Chinese Teachers Tough Enough? British School”. That’s the reality of the situation. Chinese teachers need virtually nothing in the way of classroom management skills because the culture of respect and authority is ingrained in Chinese children from birth. Transplant that to the UK and to children who have been encouraged to question authority and who are used to being engaged by more interactive lessons and it just doesn’t work.
When I started Little Dragons, it was because I wanted to offer Mandarin teaching that was specifically tailored for the needs of non-heritage learners. It’s been nearly 4 years now that we’ve been teaching Mandarin and we’ve also learnt plenty of lessons along the way. Quite often we are approached by people who teach or have taught at Chinese heritage learner schools in the UK. Sometimes this is not such a great thing, as these schools tend to follow the traditional ‘lecture’ style of teaching with lots of learning characters by rote. On the other hand, if the teachers concerned can tell me during interview that this method doesn’t work so well with non-heritage learners and why, then there is hope. I have also had some tricky times with Chinese-born teachers who have years of experience of teaching in China. The more time that has been spent teaching in Chinese schools, often the less able the teachers are to successfully transition to a British classroom environment, even with coaching.
It’s important to say that there are many benefits to employing Chinese-born teachers to teach Mandarin. The fact that Mandarin is a tonal language means that pronunciation is incredibly important. This whole post boils down to Chinese culture being really different and as such it’s wonderful to have someone who understands it inside out to convey this.
Little Dragons aims to always make learning Mandarin fun for our students and to bring the language and culture of China alive. As a linguaphile since a young age, if we put one child off foreign languages then we have failed in our mission. That’s why our teacher, David Jones, has UK Qualified Teacher Status and knows exactly what engages British children. Supported by our native speaker, MoMo, we can ensure that our classes offer high quality teaching specifically aimed at non-heritage learners, wherever our students live. We also make an effort to ensure that our course materials appeal to the four different types of learner – auditory, visual and kinaesthetic. We all know that there is a cultural gap between the Chinese and British styles of teaching – but Little Dragons seeks to bridge that gap rather than point out the obvious.