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 The Joy of Learning Mandarin Through Play

Written by Yan Yan, PYP Mandarin Coordinator at SCIS 

What are the words that come to your mind when you connect play with learning? I know mine and they are spontaneity and creativity. How is this possible in a Mandarin class? Vocabulary is a must-have. Sentence structure is an important element to teach. Grammar seems to drive learning even far away from play. However, there is a hidden treasure trove of learning moments that only exist in the world of play-based education. In those moments, activities like drawing, acting, games and hands-on experiences open up a world of linguistic wonders to everyone that is involved. Yes, everyone. Students, teachers, everyone. 


A secret key to unlocking conceptual understanding 

When children shape a character with play dough or use their fingers to try out the writing in shaving foam, the sophisticated words that they are learning become alive. As worldly famous, Mandarin characters consist of phonograms, which consist 90% of the frequently used words. This trait by itself is a conceptual understanding, especially when teachers introduce a new word to students for the first time. Why does the character for water look like this? How to teach it? How to connect this concept to the actual world around us? If anyone ever wonders about these questions, it is worth a try to let kids guide this inquiry experience through hands-on activities. Feeling the flow of water in the foam will eventually explain why the radical has water drops in it. Spreading the sand into a horizontal stroke will help kids understand why the word for balance and equity has to have a straight horizontal line in it. Through these little activities, students therefore enter a realm of enchantment where learning becomes an adventure into not just language but more into the concept, the culture, and even beyond. It's in this enchanting realm that students embrace the Mandarin language not as a subject, but as a key to unlocking a world of endless possibilities. 


A powerful tool to harness ATL skills 

Imagine a classroom with a straightforward learning goal for today and the goal is to learn how to bargain in Mandarin. It is always safe to provide students with a stack of paper where they can read the text materials and collect language blocks. Then what to do with these blocks? Yes, they can be powerful in reading comprehension tests and also useful for oral tasks. But what if we throw the kids into a real everyday challenge for buying and selling? How soon will they discover that the words they remember and sentences they dictate need to be rearranged or nuanced to suit the changing needs of the current transaction? Pretty much right away! How, as a consequence, should they manage their logical reasoning and resume communication to successfully close a deal? We shall find out only after we present these opportunities in class or out of classrooms. These playful moments are way more complicated than simple paper exams and can activate the ATL skills right away for our learners.  

In the world of education, we often hear that the journey is just as important as the destination. When it comes to teaching Mandarin through play, this sentiment holds true. The learning moments created in the enchanting world of drawing, acting, games, and hands-on activities are more than lessons; they are lifelong memories. They're the beauty of Mandarin, not just as a language but as a doorway to the rich tapestry of Chinese culture. These are the moments that remind us why we fell in love with learning in the first place. 

SCIS. China Host Culture.

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