Progressing in Chinese and the teacher’s role

As you climb your way up from beginner to relative Chinese master, what form should Chinese class take? Should their be free discussion, or rigid lesson plans? What makes a good Chinese teacher at each stage in the learning process?

When you first start out learning Chinese, a rigid lesson structure is essential – you know nothing, and the teacher is there to tell you what you need to know, to guide you into the language. The teacher will give you the grounding and fundamental knowledge that you need to be able to progress with the language. Teaching is not easy, and knowing a language doesn’t immediately mean you can subsequently teach that language, so it’s essential that you find the right teacher from the start. This will ensure you learn what you need to, and stop you from following any dead ends or developing a false impression about what Chinese is.

After that you need to find your own feet. While you’re still stuck within the confines of the boring text books you can slowly start to branch out and find content and learning materials that are suitable for you. Find books and magazines, and TV programmes that stimulate the learning process – this is not the same for every student, so people might start to progress at different rates depending on the motivation that was gathered from the new learning materials.

Once you progress to higher-intermediate and advanced level, the teacher’s role should be a guide only, to pull you back on to the tracks when you go wrong. But essentially the teacher should listen and facilitate the class – while still retaining a central role, but allowing the students to freely express themselves using Chinese, with the teacher acting as a mediator to discussions. This is an excellent teacher, one who knows the students abilities, adjusts discussion accordingly and drives the students to progress.

If you want to progress you you need to find the right teacher at every level, it can be hell to be stuck in a lesson structure that is not equivalent to the stage of learning you are currently at – so make sure you choose you class wisely. At intermediate and higher levels learning is more about opening your mind and less about restriction.

Do you have any thoughts on what makes a good language teacher? How have you found your progression from beginner to more advanced levels of Chinese? Do you think class structure should adapt to the students, or is a rigid structure always best? Please let us know below as this could be a really interesting discussion: