Making the World a Little Bit Smaller: Introducing VHS Learning’s new Chinese Language courses | VHS Learning

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Making the World a Little Bit Smaller: Introducing VHS Learning’s new Chinese Language courses

By: 
John Englander

After many months of hard work from our development team of subject matter experts and instructional designers, as well as the support and expertise of our curriculum partners in China, Continental Han Feng Network Technology (CHF), this fall VHS Learning will unveil the newest additions to our World Language catalog: Chinese 1 and Chinese 2On Wednesday morning, September 8th, several sections of VHS Learning students from across the U.S. and abroad will enter their virtual classrooms to be greeted by a resounding, “你好!” (“Hello!” in Chinese, pronounced NEE-HOW.) 

English and Mandarin Chinese are by far the two most spoken languages in the world (ethnologue.com). The benefits to our English-speaking VHS Learning students in having the opportunity to learn Chinese should be obvious given today’s global economy led by China and the U.S. The ability to communicate across oceans is key to unlocking opportunities and advancements that can impact all people.

Adding a full program of Chinese language course to our catalog was, therefore, a no-brainer. You may be asking yourself: “So why did it take you so long?” The answer is simple: we wanted to be sure we could develop courses that will engage and effectively educate our students—Chinese courses that meet not only ACTFL national standards for World Languages, and the National Standards for Quality Online Learning (NSQ), but also our own additional high standards regarding instructional practices and the importance of collaboration and community building. Teaching a world language that employs an entirely different character set, and doing so within VHS Learning’s unique, asynchronous (i.e., “not live”) delivery model, is no easy task. But recent technical advancements within our Learning Management System (LMS), Brightspace by D2L, as well as the recent successful rollouts of our American Sign Language and revised Spanish courses that use similar teaching strategies and technology, assured us that not only could we develop Chinese courses—we could make them effective and impactful.

Here are a few more questions we anticipate our schools, students and families might have as they consider enrolling in our new Chinese courses.

Students need to practice communicating in the target language. How is that done in an asynchronous setting?

We understand, of course, the limitations of conversational language learning without live interactions. At the same time, we know through experience (and our students’ AP World Language exam scores that exceed the national average) that students can unquestionably learn new languages effectively through VHS Learning online courses. We have put in place various teaching strategies that utilize the technology available through our LMS to simulate conversations and provide this important component. Recent innovations in our LMS allow students and teachers to easily and seamlessly record video of themselves speaking in the target language. That video is then embedded directly for playback in a discussion post or dropbox submission.This easy-to-use functionality allows for verbal communication with peers, as well as the ability for the teacher to provide substantive feedback on student work.

What pedagogic approaches are you using to develop the courses?

As mentioned above, our World Language level 1 through AP courses are being developed to meet national ACTFL standards.The subject matter experts helping us design and develop the courses provide decades of classroom experience and pedagogic expertise. Professor Yu Feng, Director of the Chinese Language Program at Brandeis University, helped design the AP Chinese Language and Culture Exam. We are applying his innovative pedagogic approach, which focusses on student engagement and making Chinese language learning accessible.Whereas traditional Chinese instruction often focusses much time upfront on the arduous and tedious task of handwriting Chinese characters, Professor Feng’s approach defers this intensive handwriting work until year 3, allowing students to use the keyboard to type Chinese characters. This approach allows more time for more interesting and exciting work on vocabulary and skills development. Hua Zhang, our lead subject matter expert, has been teaching all levels of high school Chinese to students in the U.S. for many years and has trained hundreds of high school teachers in best practices for Chinese instruction. Both Zhang Laoshi and Feng Laoshi (Laoshi means “Teacher”) understand the importance of authentic, relevant content and instruction, while trying to make Chinese language learning fun and engaging.

Are Chinese 1 and Chinese 2 the full extent of VHS Learning’s Chinese language program?

No! We are committed to developing the full set of high school-level Chinese courses 1 through 4, as well as AP Chinese Language and Culture. We will develop Chinese 3 and AP Chinese to release in the fall of 2022, and then Chinese 4 to be released in the fall of 2023.

What about your current Mandarin Language and Culture semester elective?  Will Chinese 1 replace that course?

Absolutely not. Our semester-long World Language elective, Mandarin Language and Culture, is a wonderful introductory course that will continue giving students a taste of Chinese language, culture and history. The course also provides younger students the important experience of what it is like to learn a World Language. In those cases where students choose to continue on to Chinese 1, the foundation they build in Mandarin Language and Culture will serve them well.

Do students need a special keyboard to type Chinese?

There only a few dozen Latin characters on the English keyboard, and literally thousands of Chinese characters! Nevertheless, students are able to use their Latin character keyboards to type in Chinese.Instructions are given at the start of the course on how to install the Pinyin-based Chinese keyboard on your PC, Mac or Chromebook.

 

At VHS Learning, our mission and vision is to provide students and teachers with collaborative and engaging learning opportunities that prepare students to be successful in college, careers, and life.  We know our new Chinese courses meet these lofty goals. If you have more questions or need more information about our Chinese Language Program—or any of our World Language courses—please contact us.

Registration opens Wednesday, May 12, 2021.