Abstract: Teaching Chinese as a foreign language (henceforth CFL) has undoubtedly grown in popularity worldwide over the past number of years. CFL was first introduced as a module in Irish third-level institutions in the year 2006-2007, around the time when the first Confucius Institutes were founded in Ireland in University College Dublin and University College Cork. In 2014, a short course entitled ‘Chinese Language and Culture’ was introduced to the junior cycle of Irish secondary schools. It was compiled by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) and provided a set of guidelines for teaching CFL from the beginner level. More recently, in 2017, it was announced that CFL would be introduced as a State-examined subject on the Leaving Certificate curriculum within 10 years.
The following describes a quasi-experimental study with a focus on teaching Chinese characters to beginner learners in an Irish secondary school. Approximately 90 participants aged 14-16 years were divided into four groups, whereby each group was taught beginner-level Chinese under one teaching method of focused memorisation (FM), delayed character introduction (DCI), character colour-coding (CCC), or the unity curriculum (UC), which places equal focus on reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Participants were taught for one academic year, during which they conducted four formative evaluations – testing learning progress – and two summative evaluations – testing learning outcomes. These evaluations comprised exercises such as listening dictation, character recall and recognition, using characters in sentences, reordering sentences, and producing Chinese text.
Findings from the current study show that a combined methodology of FM, CCC, and UC is possibly beneficial to beginner learners when learning character composition and how to use characters in a variety of contexts, while feedback from participants also demonstrated that the characters were one of the main difficulties in their learning of CFL. Evidence-based recommendations for a future CFL teaching methodology are therefore supplied in the current research, while recommendations for a CFL programme are also discussed.
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