Mandarin: music to her ears

Bing 27 February, 2017

Mandarin is musical, says Rachel Crellin, a musician and primary teacher who has now added Mandarin to her skill set.

“Mandarin has qualities that are strongly reminiscent of music – in particular I love the melodic shapes created by the tones,” she says.

Rachel has been interested in languages since her own school years in the UK. She learnt French and German at school, and, as an adult, Spanish. She teaches at Marshall Laing Primary School in Auckland, where Mandarin is a significant language in the community.

In 2015 she and her colleagues were given the opportunity to learn and teach the language, a challenge she “gladly took on”. In 2016 she extended her knowledge by taking part in the Ministry-funded, one-year programme TPDL (Teacher Professional Development Languages)*.

Since then she has been teaching Mandarin as a separate subject to years 5 and 6 students and now finds herself being able to conduct lessons entirely in Mandarin.

With the support of school management, she is looking forward to channelling her enthusiasm for both music and languages more and more. 

“While some languages, like French, have a smooth, lyrical flow, in Mandarin there is movement in pitch with every syllable, creating a more rapid and energetic melody,” Rachel explains.

“With four main tones and a fifth neutral tone, there are many nuances to master; the classic teaching example is ma which can have a wide range of meanings, including mother (first tone, mā) and horse (third tone, maˇ).

“Getting the tones right seems important to me. Not only because aesthetically I want to get the ‘music’ right, but also because you can say completely the wrong thing – and maybe something quite inappropriate – by using the wrong tone.

“Consider the similarity between qıˇngwèn (excuse me/please may I ask) and qīnwěn (to kiss). The potential for saying something off-target is very real!”

ENRICHING THE CURRICULUM

Some of Rachel’s students show a real affinity for learning languages and she frequently detects a concurrence with ‘having a musical ear’.

This can sometimes apply to students who do not tend to shine in other subject areas, and she says it’s rewarding to see these individuals come forward and thrive in language lessons.

Rachel believes it is the special calling and privilege of primary teachers to give all students opportunities to develop their latent talents, and that languages hold an important place in a rich and diverse curriculum.

Since her participation in TPDL* and focusing on task-based communication, Rachel has seen her teaching become more engaging and effective. Her students persevere in order to communicate and are taking exciting steps towards constructing longer sentences.

Thanks to TPDL, Marshall Laing Primary, which started off its recent history of teaching Mandarin with a Mandarin language assistant in 2014, could sharpen its profile for language teaching. A cohesive programme for languages at this central Auckland school is in development and includes the teaching of Mandarin in collaboration with another primary and intermediate school in the local area.

*In 2017 this programme is called Transforming Practice in Language Teaching (TPLT). More information on this programme to support the teaching and learning of languages can be found at www.tplt.ac.nz.

 

The article was published on New Zealand Education Gazette on 27 Feb 2017.