Tips for Learning Chinese from Lingo Bus Teacher, Helen Zhang

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In our this Teacher Interviews, we speak with 张红芳 / Zhāng hóngfāng. (Her English name is Helen).

Read on for Helen’s tips for learning Chinese as a second language: to avoid mixing-up Chinese words and her recommendations for some well-known Chinese songs to study.

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A brief bio…

I’m a Beijing girl. Sometimes I like to say I’m a 北京大女孩 (Běijīng dà nǚhái), literally “a big girl from Beijing”, which means that I’m a typical extroverted and friendly Beijing girl. I like hiking with my teammates, traveling with my friends and enjoying delicious food. It’s really hard to say what my favorite Chinese food is because I am a real foodie. I like Beijing hotpot, lamb shashlik, sautéed spicy chicken… My favorite city is Lijiang. I like the slower pace of life there at there and the landscape is beautiful.

About teaching Chinese as a foreign language

This job allows me to learn a lot about myself and others. For example,teaching Chinese has taught me a lot about my own language. I am patient and I really like to help other people, especially helping them to solve problems, so teaching is a great fit.

What advice do you have for students to remember vocabulary?

Chinese vocabulary can be difficult sometimes, especially when two words sound similar. For students at the beginner level, I like to link the words to help them remember the difference. For example, if the student knows 手 (shǒu) ”hand” and today’s new word is 瘦 (shòu) ”thin”, I will make a sentence like “我的手很瘦 (wǒ de shǒu hěn shòu) ”my hand is very slim”, to help the student remember the different tones & characters. This is something you can do by yourself to review!

What are some common mistakes that your students make in Chinese?

Most of my students are from Europe or America, so a common mistake is the sentence order (it’s quite different in Chinese, so it takes practice!). Also, many students use Chinese words in the same ways as the equivalent English words are used. For example: 有点儿 (yǒudiǎn)  vs. 一点 (yìdiǎn). They both translate to mean “a little”, but their uses are different.

For words like these that are easy to misuse, I also like to put them together in one sentence to show my student the difference. 

What songs would you recommend for students to help them learn Chinese?

I recommend some simple, very well-known Chinese songs to get started:

  • 甜蜜蜜
    tián mimi
    Sweet Honey
  • 月亮代表我的心
    yuèliàng dàibiǎo wǒ de xīn
    The Moon Represents My Heart
  • 两只老虎
    liǎng zhī lǎohǔ
    Two Tigers (children’s song)
  • 春天在哪里
    chūntiān zài nǎlǐ
    Where is the Spring? (children’s song)

What is your favorite part of teaching Chinese?

My favorite part of teaching Chinese is to see my students progress. Especially when I start with a beginner learner who can later communicate with me in Chinese and express himself freely. Being a Chinese teacher is not all about teaching; most of time I’m also learning from my student. Because we are from different countries, our thinking patterns might be different. So when we encounter a new language point, sometimes it is not easy to understand or accept, and we will discuss together. At that time, I understand why they are thinking like that from their language and they will find out why Chinese say it like that. It’s not only a teacher-student relationship, but also like friends making progress together.

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