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Learning languages Studies

Columba College

Columba College Case Study (PDF, 312 KB)

Columba College has a strong Chinese language learning programme, which currently runs from years 6 to 13. A key feature of Columba’s programme is a clear focus on making sure students are motivated to keep learning through their school years and beyond. Providing opportunities for students is a key part of the programme.

Daily contact with language and knowing what students want

“One of the strengths of our programme is the daily contact that tears 11 to 13 students have with language learning,” says Elizabeth Wilson, principal of Columba College. “We find that the girls here love language learning and think it’s a good thing.”

Another key feature, says Chinese language teacher Yi Ding (Ivy), is that she talks to the girls about them carrying on with language learning. “I make sure I sit down with the students individually and discuss with them what they want. I also try to make sure that each girl makes progress with her language learning, which helps them to stay motivated to keep going.”

When I ask them why they want to learn, the main reasons coming through are that they are interested in the culture, they want to work in China and travel there. These are the students with high motivation to carry on.

A range of activities in class

Activities in class also focus on making sure students are engaged. “I use role play and speaking and writing practice, with an emphasis on speaking together. I also mix in cartoons for them to watch and then test them to ensure they understand. “I also do what we call ‘tongue practice’ to help with pronunciation where students have to listen to the language being spoken and choose the tones that are used. Tones are the hardest.”

Using craft to better understand the culture also features strongly, with paper cutting, lantern making and calligraphy.

Competitions

Columba also engages students in speech competitions each year. “We have been competing in speech competitions for the last three years,” says Elizabeth. “Six girls will compete in 2010 and then have the prospect of going to Wellington for the finals and the finalists go to China. It’s great motivation for the students.”

Working at all levels

Columba is strong on making sure that its programme flows through all levels. “If you want to bring in Chinese to a school, you need to introduce it at the level you want to start at and make sure there’s a person able to take it through to the higher levels to keep momentum going,” says Elizabeth. “You also need a teacher who is more than just able to speak Chinese. They need to have good English language skills too, so students’ questions can be answered and students know that they will be able to be understood also.”

Sister school exchanges

Columba has a sister school in Shanghai, so another way of engaging and motivating students is with exchanges. “Our sister school exchanges run every two years, although we are now looking at the possibility of two-way exchanges every year and also exchanging students for longer periods of time. This means we could send students learning Chinese to Datong High School for 6 to 8 weeks at a time,” says Elizabeth.

The exchanges not only involve language lessons, but learning musical instruments and cultural immersion in Shanghai, Xi’an and Beijing, plus staying in the dormitories of Datong High School and two day visits to Hangzhou and Suzhou.

“The experience was extended to students who weren’t necessarily learning Chinese, expanding interest even further to students,” says Elizabeth.
But the greatest progress has been for those students who learn Chinese. For the students who travelled to China, “I have seen a big difference with their ability to pronounce words. It is much improved, almost like their hearing system is now completely changed,” says Ivy.

Tips:

  • Use all the resources available and tap into national networks, such as the Confucius Institute, the Chinese National Adviser and support from Laytee George.
  • The Ministry of Education’s Hao (Learning Languages Series) is a good resource which can be supported by other resources to help with teaching.
  • Make sure you have a focus on teaching strategies for learning a language, which will help students to learn other languages too.

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