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Teaching Skills of Words Differentiation

When leading students to review words they have learnt in free Chinese lessons, you are in the dominant position, for students are required to follow your questions.

As long as your questions are good, the process of learning Mandarin Chinese will be quite easy. However, things will never go on as what you expect. Students will always ask some questions which make you surprised or unexpected, such as “is this word the same with that one?”

I suppose that this will be the last question you want to hear when teaching words to students who learn Chinese in China. For new Chinese teachers, the biggest problem is the differentiation between words. If you don’t believe me, I will show you some words differentiations which are often asked by students. 
参观——访问 观赏——欣赏 拥有——具有
面临——面对 嫉妒——羡慕 充分——充足
表示——表现——表达 普通——普及——普遍

After seeing these words, what is your feeling? Because we are the native speakers of Chinese language, we will never realize the process of choosing words in our thought. But your students are different; they need to depend on the translation given by textbooks when they learn to speak Chinese. However, the real situation is that many Chinese words can’t find precise and exact English explanation. As the consequence, the explanations of many Chinese words have the almost same English explanations.

In the example we have given, words “参观” and “访问” have the same English translation “visit” according to the common textbooks for teaching Chinese as second language. Students will say, “明天我要去访问NY博物馆” after reading the translation given by the textbooks. As the teacher of qualified Mandarin program, you must say, “that’s not right; it should be 参观博物馆”. Of Course, students will ask the differentiation between these two words clearly. And it also means that your suffering time starts.

According to the experience of Chinese teachers, as the students learn Mandarin better and better, they will grasp more and more Chinese words and at the same time they will prefer to ask you such questions. It means that your suffering time will be much more.

Here we have a small tip for you. As long as you meet this kind of question, the first thing you need to do is not to answer immediately, but to raise your question. You must confirm that on which word the confusion of students lies. The best way is to let students speak out the sentence which contains the word. For example, the pair of “失去——丢”, firstly you should say: Give me a sentence to show your confusion. Students who study Chinese may ask like this: why we can say, ‘失去了这个机会’ instead of ‘丢了这个机会’?” In this way, you will feel clearer about the confusion of students. 

By asking questions like this, the thinking range of teachers can be shrunk and students’ confusion can also be easily found. Another example is the differentiation of “老” and “总”. After looking up the dictionary, you will find that these two words are synonyms when both of them represent “一直,经常”. Therefore, teachers of Chinese school in China can point out the most obvious difference between the words firstly. It is not laziness or irresponsible, but to strive for the trust of your students to you.

Believe a theory: as soon as you hear a question of the students who learn Chinese in China, you must seize time to think actively and trust the basic language sense of you as a Chinese so that you can present your answer in clear language. If you spend almost half an hour to think of a good answer in order to answer the question of your students exactly and completely, I suppose that your students will question your professional knowledge level as a teacher.

Finally, we have a conclusion about the teaching skills for teachers to teach students to learn Mandarin in China. One is to start with sentences and never differentiate words out of context; the other is to start with the most obvious difference of words if you can’t find the tiny difference.

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