Lin Yao, teaching in Mauritius: “Where there is dream there is hope. I know that the school where I taught is a place where the kids started the pursuit of their dreams”.
Lin Yao, volunteer Chinese teacher at the Philippe Rivalland Church Primary School, Mauritius
With my youthful dream, with my longing for the future, and with some curiosity, I went to Mauritius and began my life as a volunteer Chinese language teacher for Hanban.
I was assigned to teach at Philippe Rivalland church school in Beau Bassin. I was excited to see the students of different colors. In Mauritius, English and French are compulsory courses. Many take an Oriental language as an option. With the interest in China rising, more and more students enroll for Chinese. Of the 1,280 students at Philippe Rivalland, 218 signed up for Chinese.
To teach Chinese, a language completely different from the pupils’ mother tongue, it is necessary to arouse interest in learning it. To this end, a teacher should show more encouragement than disapproval. But at first I treated them, especially those of Chinese descent, as pupils in China. Unknowingly I ignored their progress, being too strict with them. Consequently they lacked confidence. Gradually I realized that it was unusually remarkable for the students to learn three languages simultaneously in their childhood. It was all the more amazing for them to persevere in Chinese learning. I changed my attitude toward them, giving them more encouragement than disapproval. With their initiative encouraged, the students learned more effectively. I recall a six-year-old pupil in grade two. When he wrote the character 蕉, he found it so hard to confine it to one space that he divided it into three parts and placed them in three vertical spaces. I told him in a mild tone, “Your handwriting is beautiful and all the strokes are well-organized. But it would be better if you could place all the strokes in one space.” The mere suggestion proved fruitful because the kid wrote the character on a whole page when he got home. It was impressive to me.
Encouraging pedagogy was such a driving force for the pupils that even the naughty ones vied to answer questions and participate in the writing competition. I found it more demanding to teach pupils about life and good manners than about the Chinese language. Pupils at five or six are like sheets of blank paper. It is important to help them develop good study and living habits. In China, writing posture is emphasized. But in Mauritius, no attention was paid to their posture when writing; so, some pupils even leaned against the desk with the notebook placed sideways. I was determined to break their bad habits in writing and help form good ones. I asked the pupils to be a fist away from the desk, with the eyes one chi (1 chi=1/3 meter) away from the book and the hand a cun (1 cun=1/30 meter) away from the tip of the pencil. A month later I found the students had good posture and better handwriting.
With the absence of a good language environment and limited teaching resources, teaching Chinese abroad often requires greater dedication and effort. It took the little kids a long time to acquire a simple greeting like 老师好 (Laoshi hao.). On many occasions, I had no heart to dampen their enthusiasm for the language despite their daily wrong pronunciations of the greeting. One of the pupils had trouble distinguishing zh, ch and sh. But he made great effort to practice by blowing hard. When I realized his mispronunciation resulted from the loss of two front teeth, I was impressed by his determination.
During the two years I taught Chinese, perhaps I failed to teach the students much Chinese, but I sowed the seeds of the Chinese Dream in their hearts. Where there is dream there is hope. I know that the school where I taught is a place where the kids started the pursuit of their dreams.
Published in Confucius Institute Magazine
Number 05. Volume V. November 2009.
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