“Teaching Chinese abroad gives me a new understanding of the language. The language’s long history, its musical sound, beautiful and meaningful form, and concise and intelligent grammatical structure make it unique among the languages of the world, attracting more and more foreigners. I love our native language more than ever now”.
Zhang Xiuqin, Dhaka University, Bangladesh
On November 18, 2007, I was sent to Dhaka University, the largest national university of Bangladesh, to teach Chinese. How time flies! More than one year has passed and I have become accustomed to everything here. Every day I walk on the familiar road from my apartment to the classrooms, as if I were a native of Dhaka.
Dhaka University covers a vast area and looks like a small town. In it are various colleges and departments, students’ dormitories and teachers’ residential quarters, each of which has its own courtyard. The Modern Language College that I work in is an independent language training unit that only offers language training but does not issue academic certificates. Besides providing language training (equivalent to a selective language course) to the students of Dhaka University, it also enrolls students from the general public. The college teaches Bangla, English, French, Spanish, German, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Arabic, Persian, Turkish and Russian, 12 languages in all. The schooling period for each language is three years. One can obtain a certificate if one passes their exams at the end of their three years of study.
The language’s long history, its musical sound, beautiful and meaningful form, and concise and intelligent grammatical structure make it unique among the languages of the world, attracting more and more foreigners.
The tuition fee is fairly cheap here, 2500 takas per year, about 250 RMB. It used to be cheaper. Therefore, many people came to Dhaka to learn foreign languages. In the Language College you can see students of various age groups and identities, including government officials, enterprise owners and retirees. One of my students is 78 years old, but he works hard in learning Chinese. Of course, most of the learners are university students. Besides Bangla their native language and English the official language, the students here are likely to learn at least one foreign language. Due to religious and historical reasons, many students know Arabic and understand Hindi. You can say one of my students is addicted to learning languages. He owns a language school, but he is still busy learning languages everywhere. Presently, he is learning Chinese simultaneously at Dhaka University and North-South University. At the same time, he is learning Japanese, Korean and Turkish at Dhaka University. Last year he learned German, French and Spanish. His spirit is really commendable.
Although English is the official language of Bangladesh, people communicate mainly in Bangla in their daily life. For my own teaching and living convenience, I started to learn Bangla. From there I got to know the reasons behind the students’ Chinese mispronunciations.
“I think that Chinese teachers should be given one or two weeks of training on the language of the country they are going to work in before they are sent abroad”.
As we all know, a person’s native language is definitely going to interfere with one’s foreign language learning. When learning pinyin, the interference of Bangla mainly manifests in the pronunciation of several pairs of initial consonants, i.e., b/p, d/t and g/k. At first, it seemed as if the students made no difference between these pairs of sounds and that they were pronouncing the one while they should be pronouncing the other. After learning some basic phonetics of Bangla, I know that the students do not have any problems with their listening comprehension. Their mispronunciations are related to the features of Bangla consonants. In Chinese pinyin, there are 21 consonants, while there are 40 in Bangla, so it has a wider variety of pronunciations. In Chinese, b/p, d/t and g/k are all voiceless consonants, with the former aspirated and the latter unaspirated. Yet in Bangla, each pair of the above consonants still includes another pair of voiced aspirated and unaspirated consonants. So a bilabial sound has four pronunciations, that is, voiceless aspirated and unapirated, and voiced aspirated and unaspirated. In learning Chinese pronunciation, because of their native language habit, students have difficulty in finding the equivalent sounds which result in their mispronunciation of those sounds. After learning the phonetic characteristics of Bangla, I can teach with better focus and find it easier to correct students’ pronunciations.
“I love our native language more than ever now. I am proud of being a Chinese teacher abroad. I will work harder to fulfill our glorious mission”.
Therefore, if it is possible, I think that Chinese teachers should be given one or two weeks of training on the language of the country they are going to work in before they are sent abroad. The Korean language teaching volunteers of South Korea received three months of training on Bangla before they come to Bangladesh. After their arrival, they can teach Korean in Bangla very quickly. This is much more convenient than learning Bangla by oneself after arriving here.
In my teaching, I also found that English interferes with Bangladeshis’ Chinese learning to some extent. The striking interference is manifested in their sentence structures. For example, some students often use sentences such as “Wo shi yige buhao xuesheng”, “Ta jiehun yige zhongguo guniang”, “Wo lai nide jia jintian wanshang”, “Zhege chihao” and “Ta kanhao”. In fact, these sentences are the result of the interference of their English equivalents — “I am not a good student”, “He married a Chinese girl”, “I’ll go to your home this evening”, “It tastes good”, “She looks beautiful.” I think all English speaking students are likely to make these mistakes. So they should become the key points in teaching Chinese. By comparing the sentence structures of the two languages, I can help my students master Chinese more quickly and accurately. Teaching Chinese abroad gives me a new understanding of the language. The language’s long history, its musical sound, beautiful and meaningful form, and concise and intelligent grammatical structure make it unique among the languages of the world, attracting more and more foreigners. I love our native language more than ever now. I am proud of being a Chinese teacher abroad. I will work harder to fulfill our glorious mission.
Published in Confucius Institute Magazine
Number 03.Volume III. July 2009.
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