There are not a great deal of dissemination of this type of tutoring at the moment but I believe that within 2-3 years a majority of the high end institutions will have adopted similar programs like those that are being spearheaded in a few schools at the moment.
The Applied Mandarin section of these schools’ curriculum is unique and highly beneficial. It acts as a compliment to classroom instruction and does what it says on the box: it allows students to progress through actually applying the theoretical knowledge gained in class.
It is comprised of a series of challenges, activities and social gatherings where students are given the opportunity to interact with native speakers and apply their new language skills in real life situations in bargaining, selling, communicating, co-operating, entertaining, learning and teaching; in short, living.
The idea is that learning needs to be enjoyable and the best way to become exited is to feel that one is progressing every day. Applied Mandarin offers the opportunity to turn a classroom into an exciting adventure. Most students have never been to China before and it is a waste to spend too much time on only homework in order to progress quickly when the best way to learn a language is to speak it.
The Applied Mandarin material is closely linked to the vocabulary and topics that is covered in the classrooms of these schools. On certain afternoons and weekends these topics are taken to the streets, TV-studios, Radio stations, restaurants and nightclubs and students go to work.
The first topic that students are introduced to is Karaoke Night. The purpose of this activity is to act as an introduction to Applied Mandarin. One of the most common forms of entertainment in Beijing is Karaoke (which means empty orchestra in Japanese). The hundreds and hundreds of KTV establishments come in all prices and tastes and is a must-try for anyone that comes to Beijing. They offer private rooms with snacks, tongue-loosening drinks and private Karaoke equipment. The learning objective here is to practice pronunciation and have fun and make friends.
The second topic is Beijing Public Transport, and is part of what is called survival training. One of the hardest bits to get your head around initially is how to travel from point A to point B. This introductory class is a fantastic way to get independent quickly. It is introduces you to the three main modes of transportation: taxi rides, bus rides and the subway system. Here the learning objective is simply a practical introduction to life in China.
The third topic teaches students how to read a Chinese Menu. This is a crash course in some Chinese common characters that appear on every menu in China, and vocabulary enabling you to order in a polite way (and get the attention of the restaurant staff) and what culinary delights the fantastically varied Chinese food culture can offer you. Did you know that there are over 50 distinct cultural divisions in China and that they all have something interesting to eat? The learning objective of this exercise is to get people to the point where independent interaction with restaurant staff is possible.
The system is, as you are probably able to see, progressively harder almost from the beginning. The first exercise is merely an introduction. People have the chance to hear and speak Chinese in a fun setting. The second topic involves real survival basics that will enable a student to move on their own. The third topic however, has a deeper agenda and enables the student not only to interact with an important facet of Chinese daily life but do so in a polite way. To get to this point in only a few weeks is a major achievement.
Rui Ming works for a Mandarin academy that is a great option for those that want to learn Mandarin. If you are interested in more information about learning Mandarin in China, please consult the website of Beijing Gateway Academy.