Are you a brand new Mandarin language teacher or tutor?
First off, good for you! You’ve chosen to give the gift of a new language to students who could vitally use it for career and school opportunities. Mandarin is the most-spoken language in the world with over a billion users worldwide, and that number is only growing thanks to teachers like you.
With this heavy responsibility on your shoulders to provide your students with the best learning experience possible, you may be finding yourself unsure of how to approach it all. How does one get their certification squared away? How does one look for a position as a teacher? How are lesson plans built and organized into various proficiencies?
All that and more can be answered in our handy guide full of tips for teaching Chinese as a foreign language! We get it, the future may make you a bit nervous. But after reading our tips, we bet you’ll be at least a little more at ease.
Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language: 10 Tips for Success
1. Get Your Education, Testing and Proper Certification Sorted
Be sure to do this as soon as possible. Getting certified as a teacher isn’t a complicated process, but it is a long-winded and tedious one. Be sure to get it out of the way as quickly as possible.
First off, passing the HSK is pretty much mandatory to prove your proficiency in Chinese. According to a “Superprof Magazine” writeup on getting certified as a teacher, there are several paths you can take depending on how long you plan on studying and how much you’d like to spend on schooling and certification. Those paths include:
- Chinese as a second language for middle school students
- High school Chinese as an elective
- College-level Chinese
- Teaching Chinese abroad in China or elsewhere
- Geting a master’s degree to become a linguistics professor
- Private lessons and tutoring
Since Mandarin is such a lucrative language, you’ll find it isn’t so difficult to find places to get certified and get job opportunities.
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2. Weigh Your Pros and Cons
Typically, you have the choice between teaching in a public school vs. one-on-one private tutoring. There is quite a bit to consider when it comes to choosing which path works for you.
Pros of teaching at a public school:
- Significantly more schooling to complete before getting a job
- Lucrative benefits
- Can bond with students
- Summer vacation and holidays
- Can connect and network with other staff
Cons of teaching at a public school:
- Low pay for the duration of your career with little room for raises, around $45,000 per year
- No administration support
- Excessive professional development training days
Pros of teaching Chinese as a tutor:
- Can work from home
- Can essentially work as a freelance for yourself rather than working for an administration
- It’s easier to teach one student than an entire class of students
- After a while, you can make decent money
Cons of teaching Chinese as a tutor:
- Rarely offered benefits
- Poor entry-level pay, around $29,000 per year
We suggest working as an online tutor first to get a feel for it before attempting to dive into teaching Chinese at a public school.
3. Don’t Be Afraid to Use Outside Resources
Resources are a great thing to seek out to help build your lesson plan. You don’t have to be the most original teacher in the world.
A lot of the time it’s good to research teaching resources to spice up your classroom. These can include apps, tools, worksheets, pre-made lesson plans and much more. Don’t be afraid to use the internet to your advantage! There is a lot of technology and tried-and-true methods of implementing Chinese in a class, it’d be a shame to let it all go to waste.
4. Utilize Children’s Resources and Media
Try using resources and media designed for Chinese children in your beginner classes, even if your class is full of adults.
If you stumble across an activity or worksheet that is clearly designed for children, don’t ignore it! In fact, a lot of tools used to teach children Mandarin Chinese is quite usable and easy to understand for adults learners who are absolute novices.
5. Use a Variety of Different Learning Tools
You can definitely satisfy every type of learner by mixing up how you deliver lessons. This means building your lesson plan with lectures, books, homework, videos, films, music, images and games. Don’t just stick to the old “lecture and homework” way of teaching. While this may work really well on a basic level for your class, eventually you and your students will hit that dreaded mid-semester funk. The lectures are super boring, the students are tired, you probably even more tired.
Spice things up and add variety to your lesson plan by having a Chinese movie day or have students listen to Chinese pop music and try to pick apart the lyrics. You can definitely still take a break while teaching your student Mandarin at the same time.
6. Become Adaptive with New Technology
There really is a wealth of language technology out there.
FluentU would be a great piece of software to use in class with your students for a more immersive experience.
FluentU takes authentic videos videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
Filled with an ever-growing library of real-world Mandarin material, FluentU lets you engage your students through video clips from popular Chinese movies and TV shows, pop songs, documentaries, commercials, news articles and more. Not only does this make your lessons more fun, it also gives them firsthand exposure to Chinese culture.
Encouraging your students to download Chinese dictionary apps can help them with homework when you aren’t available. I recommend Forvo, as it can help even more with mastering Mandarin pronunciation and tones.
7. Use Storytelling Often
Storytelling is a massively useful way to teach students new words and phrases, but for some reason, this method isn’t used too frequently in classrooms. Telling simple stories is a fantastic way to get Mandarin learners of all levels to improve their listening and comprehension skills. You can easily implement this into your lesson plan by putting together a list of words you plan on introducing in your lecture, writing a story that contains those words, doing the lecture, then reading or printing out the story. Have your students pick apart when those vocabulary words pop up in the story. It’s as simple and effective as that.
8. Have Your Students Utilize Flashcards
They’re one of the oldest and most effective ways to retain words and comprehension. There’s certainly a reason why we use flashcards in this day and age! They’re great for improving your students’ memory and getting them to associate certain 拼音 (pīn yīn)—Chinese romanization and 汉字 (hàn zì)—Chinese characters with their English translation. You can make flashcards yourself and print them for your student, but there are also fantastic online flashcard apps available as well.
9. Set Clear Expectations
By setting clear expectations, you can avoid overwhelming beginner students who may be put off by the complexity of Chinese.
Remember, a lot of these students are going into class thinking Chinese is the most difficult language in the world. It’s your duty as their teacher to demystify it and make it tantalizing.
Be realistic, of course. Mandarin isn’t easy to non-native speakers, but it is certainly way more doable that many people would believe. In the syllabus, break down exactly what you plan on teaching your students so they know what they are getting into and won’t dread hitting impossible roadblocks.
10. Teach Grammar Early
It may be easy to hone in on pronunciation and writing ability, but grammar is the most important aspect of Chinese and should be taught early on.
It is absolutely vital to have a grasp on basic Chinese grammar if one plans on ever becoming fluent. It may seem a bit intimidating to start throwing out grammar concepts in a Chinese 101 course, but you’d be giving your students a head start into impeccable fluency by doing so. Chinese has fairly complex grammar, so the early you can teach this to your students the better. Encourage them to use grammar checkers as well to pinpoint where their grammar may need improvement when doing homework or studying at home.
How were our tips for successfully becoming a Mandarin language teacher? While not all of these tips may prove useful to you in particular, we can safely guess that at least a few of them hit home. Good luck out there, teacher!
Em Casalena is a published author, freelance writer and music columnist. They write about a lot of stuff, from music to films to language.