Immersion Program Teaching Assistants’ Experience and Advice

(Cover photo source: Xian Peiyu)

Graduate students Fu Qinbo, Xian Peiyu, and Zhou Yuanyuan of East China Normal University who are studying how to teach Chinese as a second language have joined the teaching staff of  NYU Shanghai’s summer Chinese Immersion Program as teaching assistants (TA). In this role, they assist the main professors in the classroom, support students in reviewing and reinforcing learning, as well as designing and facilitating weekly cultural events and field trips. In the morning, TA Fu and TA Xian can be found assisting in the Advanced and Intermediate level classes respectively. In the afternoon, they hold mandatory tutoring sessions with groups of 2-3 students to review content from the morning class as well as support TA Zhou in planning the cultural events that happen twice a week. These contributions are essential to elevating the program from regular intensive study to a truly immersive experience. 

Although constantly speaking Chinese is challenging and can be exhausting for students, TA Xian acknowledges that it helps them develop a habit of using Chinese more quickly. She emphasizes that students in general who are studying Chinese as a second language should try to speak as much Chinese as possible. One method she suggests is getting in the habit of asking yourself, “How do I say this in Chinese?” when identifying objects in your surroundings or conversing with others. After allowing yourself time to ponder this question, you can either search for an answer online or ask someone. In this way, she affirms that anyone can create their own immersive experience. 

As a TA, Xian encourages her students to speak by constantly asking questions and prompting them to recall and use the grammar and vocabulary they learned. She specifically mentions how the weekly Friday field trip, the most favored aspect of the immersion program among the TAs, is a time where students are able to see new places and practice interacting with other Chinese people. When the weather is not too hot, as it often can be during the Shanghai summer, she finds that students want to go out, and new locations provide the opportunity for old grammar structures to blend together with new conversation content.

In addition to field trips, TA Fu cites building friendships with students as another very enjoyable and useful aspect of her experience in the immersion program. Being in the position of a TA as opposed to a regular classroom teacher enables her to act both as a teacher and a friend. More than studying new grammar and vocabulary, she believes that making Chinese friends and spending as much time as possible with them is extremely helpful to Chinese language learners. For Sam Kominowski, a student in the advanced track of the program, interacting with the TAs has been very helpful with practicing spoken Chinese. He believes it to be the most useful as opposed to the more formal manner of speaking Chinese that is often taught in the classroom setting. Whether in a classroom or over dinner on the weekend, these exchanges have been equally as enjoyable and beneficial for TA Fu as well; she describes how interacting with foreign students and getting to know their personalities has proven to be helpful in coming to understand who they are and how to better communicate with them. 

As a cultural events planner, TA Zhou has a slightly different role in the program than the other TAs. The bulk of her work consists of coming up with ideas for cultural activities and executing them. Some examples of these activities include eating zongzi during the dragon boat festival, paper cutting, and kite decorating. The challenge for her is coming up with a mix of traditional and modern cultural activities that are useful and relevant to the students’ learning. Since students of both the intermediate and advanced level classes attend these activities together, she also has to come up with ways to execute the  activities in order to accommodate the Chinese levels of all of the students. She finds these activities to be a nice addition to the program since, being non mandatory, students do not get any added work or stress from attending. Rather, the events are a great opportunity to learn more about various aspects of Chinese culture, potentially pick up new vocabulary, and continue practicing speaking Chinese. Of the events so far, her favorite has been studying the meaning of red beans through an old poem and then making bracelets with them, which is a popular representation of love between couples today. 

Although these TAs only remain on staff for the two and a half month duration of the program, their time with NYU Shanghai has so far proven to be impactful. Through their work and advice, it is clear to see their passion in helping motivate students to be ambitious in their study of the Chinese language.

Author: Talitha Lewis

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