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Demystifying the Chinese Language

Demystifying the Chinese Language

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Comprehensive Unit
129 pages
Grade Level: Middle School – High School

The main purpose of this unit is to demonstrate to students that the Chinese language, though in many ways different from the English language with which they may be the most familiar, actually shares common principles with the English language. We assume that familiarizing students with the Chinese language will reduce its "strangeness" for non-Chinese-speaking people. In this sense, the central goal of this unit is not that students learn Chinese, however worthy such a goal might be. Rather, we hope that, through a series of exercises which actively involve students with Chinese, students will engage in the process of "demystifying the Chinese language."

The nature of the Chinese language itself has been the subject of much controversy in academic circles. Whether Chinese is primarily based on pictographs/ideographs or significs/phonetics remains ambiguous. This revision of Demystifying the Chinese Language attempts to address this controversy by exposing students to the main characteristics of Chinese, which include both pictographic/ideographic and signific/phonetic elements. Yet recent scholarship has shown that perhaps over 90 percent of modern Chinese characters actually are phonetic in origin, not pictographic or ideographic as originally thought. This revision of Demystifying the Chinese Language builds upon this assertion by illustrating that because the phonetic element plays such a significant role in the language, students and teachers need not feel so mystified by Chinese, as its origins parallel the origins of many other world languages.

This unit does not require either the teacher or students to have prior knowledge about the Chinese language. Any necessary background information for each exercise is included, often in the Appendices. Please note that this unit does not cover in depth spoken Chinese, as opposed to written Chinese, although we occasionally refer to the spoken language and explain certain relevant features, especially in Lesson Six.

Unit Goals

Knowledge

  • to encourage students to create and evaluate written communication systems
  • to teach students how to recognize various characteristics of the Chinese writing system
  • to help students identify changes that Chinese writing has experienced over time
  • to help students identify the issues related to the Chinese language situation and the need for language planning

Attitudes

  • to help students relate their own experiences in language, both spoken and written, with the Chinese experience
  • to foster positive attitudes among students about foreign languages
  • to become more familiar with different aspects of the Chinese language and this less "mystified" about Chinese culture

Skills

  • to help students discover new ideas through inquiry approaches, make hypotheses and generalizations from data
  • to teach students fundamental linguistic terms and concepts
  • to refine students' discussion and presentation skills in small and large groups