ICLP電子報第47期：何寶彰教授演講側記 ~ Notes from Professor He Bao-zhang’s Lecture (featured in 47th ICLP Bulletin)
Notes from Professor He Bao-zhang’s Lecture
English Translation of an Article by James Smyth
On the afternoon of April 20th, just before our spring vacation, Professor He Bao-zhang, who researches Chinese language education, came to ICLP and gave a lively introduction of his most recent work on grammar instruction. Dr. He taught at Ohio State, Harvard, and Holy Cross Universities in the United States for many years. In his experience, if a professor learns his students’ mother language, he can more easily grasp the difficulties the students will have with Chinese grammar and help them. Because students use syntax from their native languages and other foreign languages they’ve studied, they think they’re speaking very clearly, so they need definitive explanations of the differences between other languages and Mandarin. Grammar books should be bilingual, otherwise the explanations will be harder for students to understand than the examples.
One wedge between Western languages and Chinese is articles. In English, all common nouns are preceded by either “the” or “a.” Roughly speaking, the definite article “the” signifies “that particular thing” while the indefinite article “a” means “an unspecified one of those things.” Chinese doesn’t have articles, but it does put particular emphasis on the construction of a sentence; for example, “How does he sing?” and “How is his singing?” emphasize difference things, and teachers should stress that so that their students can speak more natural Chinese. When introducing grammar, however, a teacher shouldn’t get too caught up in detailing exceptions to rules, otherwise his students could forget the original purpose of the lesson or become frustrated and think Chinese is too difficult.
In the last part of the lecture, Dr. He and ICLP teachers had a spirited discussion of the evolution of conversational Chinese in Taiwan, especially the obvious influence of English: for example, teachers often overhear pidgin like “O bu OK?” (is it OK?) or “under bu understand?” (do you understand?) This exchange reminded me of my classmate Lance Davis’s report at the end of last term; obviously the subject is also of great interest to language instructors. Along these lines, Dr. He encouraged exchange students to make lots of Taiwanese friends, but he said if these friends challenge students with arguments like “I can understand you; you can understand me, so why are you still paying so much money to go to class?” they should calmly remind themselves why they’re studying: formal environments demand much greater proficiency than conversations among friends do.
Dr. He has a warm personality and deep experience, and his research is very meaningful, so the audience all went home happy.