Modern Foreign Languages

Five interesting ways of learning a language

Jasmine Short

Learning a foreign language is never easy, especially if you do not live in an environment where people speak the language regularly. Chinese is no exception. One difficulty our students have is that they cannot practise the language in their daily lives. To overcome this, we suggest students try to practise any way possible. This could be via some interesting mediums that you’d perhaps not thought about.  

1. Watch television and movie

Popular culture is useful for students to acquire language. TV dramas provide students with dialogues to listen to and subtitles allow them to read the language and learn some new words. The plot may be dramatic, but the language is mostly authentic because it is supposed to serve the native speaker audience.

2. Listen to music

Listening to pop music is also a fun way to learn a language. Martin Mak (one of the authors of the IGCSE® Mandarin as Foreign Language resources) delivered a workshop in Taiwan to a group of Chinese teachers in which he discussed the concept of using pop songs in a language class.

He used songs from artist such as Chang Chen-yue(张震岳) and Jay Chow (Zhou Jielun, 周杰伦) to teach students idioms and sentence structures in Mandarin Chinese. Mak believes that a catchy chorus helps students remember some of the phrases easily. Sometimes music helps students learn to differentiate the tones too.

Throughout Cambridge IGCSE Mandarin as a Foreign Language a fictional character ‘Timothy Jack’ (张天明) is mentioned, you can see in the last page of the sample below that Timothy has used listening to pop music as a way of learning a language.

3. Travel to a country where the language is spoken

Chinese has now become an extremely popular second language and there is now even a Chinese phrase called ‘汉语热’ (‘Chinese Fever’). There are more and more schools offering Chinese GCSE in the UK, and in Korea there are more people learning Mandarin Chinese than English.

Interestingly, many Japanese students enjoy learning Chinese because the kanji system is very similar to the Chinese writing system and hence it is easier for them to learn. However, they do not find the tones as simple.

4. Participate in a speech competition

The Confucius Institute (孔子学院) supports the learning of Chinese outside China. It organises an annual competition called ‘Chinese Bridge’ where it encourages non-native speakers to participate in a series of speech competitions and quizzes on Chinese culture. Participants may be offered a chance to travel to China to enter the final round of the competition. Some of the competitors speak Mandarin Chinese so well that even native speakers cannot tell!

5. Challenge yourself

Many students who wish to pursue recognition of their Chinese studies may take a language proficiency test called ‘Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi’ (HSK, 汉语水平测试, literally meaning Chinese Proficiency Test). There are six levels of proficiency, from Level 1 (beginners) to Level 6 (advanced learners).

Chinese used to be perceived as one of the hardest languages to master. Nowadays, there are many who speak Chinese as a second language and benefit from their language skills at work. The key is practice and use every opportunity to speak the language, even if it means singing along to a Chinese song in the car! Practice really does make perfect – the more you use the language the better your Chinese will be.

Jasmine Short
Modern Foreign Languages
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Jasmine Short
Modern Foreign Languages
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