A mandarin teacher in Shanghai has found a unique way to use WeChat to advance her students’ communication skills. The program at Miracle Mandarin Shanghai is the first of its kind worldwide to use China’s most popular social media platform to teach Chinese to non-native speakers.
Fiona Zhao noticed Wechat’s popularity and realized it would be a great way for her students to practice what they’re learning. She helped the students set up WeChat accounts and create a classmates group. Teacher Zhao’s class is made up of seven students from all over the world who have been studying together for the past three months. Each Tuesday and Thursday their class focuses primarily on reading.
Miracle Mandarin’s method for teaching characters focuses on building student confidence and practical abilities. This method emphasizes reading and learning the most common characters so that students quickly begin to recognize characters in context. Miracle Mandarin’s specially-designed elementary reading materials are based on the 500 most frequently-used characters. Using WeChat and the predictive text feature of smart phones goes hand-in-hand with Miracle Mandarin’s method, allowing students to use what they’ve learned to effectively communicate.
Molly Mullen, a Miracle Mandarin student from the U.S., wants to take advantage of the opportunity to explore Chinese language and culture while her partner is on a work assignment in Shanghai. She was not familiar with WeChat before, but finds it “so useful for communicating here in China” and “a great way for us to practice outside of class.” Students use WeChat for their homework exercises and feel that it has played a large role in their comfort level with reading Chinese characters.
WeChat literally means “micro message” and is mobile text and voice app developed by TenCent and used widely throughout China. According to Xinhua, WeChat’s total users reached 600 million worldwide as of October 2013. So, not only is this a great tool for Teacher Zhao’s students, but it’s something they’ve already incorporated into their daily lives. Student Seenda Pfister from Mauritius loves the ease of communicating with her Chinese friends via WeChat. Sophie Mensdorff, a student from Australia, has been using WeChat to send messages back and forth with her ayi (housekeeper).
“Students need to quickly begin to feel comfortable communicating, which then encourages them to practice and creates a cycle of leaning.” Says Emma Wang, Miracle Mandarin’s co-founder. “It is great to see how far these students have progressed in such a short time, thanks to Teacher Zhao’s innovative thinking about how to best meet students’ needs.”