For a look at Social Studies in Taiwanese elementary schools, see "Social Studies in Taiwan." For discussions of English in Taiwanese elementary schools, see "English in Taiwanese," and "Teaching English 10: Review." For a more general introduction to elementary school in Taiwan, see "Elementary School in Taiwan."
Mandarin 國語 is one of Taiwan's two official languages. The other official language is Taiwanese 台語, also referred to as Minnanese 民南語. Minnanese, like Mandarin, is a Chinese dialect, and the two share many linguistic similarities.
Yet Minnanese, while taught in every Taiwanese public school, is only taught once a week. It is also spoken by a much smaller percentage of the population. Despite the government's efforts to the contrary, it is Mandarin that is Taiwan's common language, and Taiwanese, although spoken and understood by many, is for many people a second language, and one that often fails to express the realities of both the modern world and their daily lives.
Mandarin, along with Math, Science, English, and Social Studies, is a core subject in Taiwanese elementary schools. In my elementary school, every grade from 1 to 6 has 5 Chinese classes per week. This makes Mandarin the most-taught subject in my school, followed by the other core subjects, which are allotted 3 class periods each.
2. Textbooks Used
The textbooks used for teaching Mandarin are all fairly similar. Our school uses the textbooks published by 康軒, 南一, and 翰林. Each semester the students complete a textbook and an accompanying workbook.
Below are excerpts from 康軒's textbooks. The red characters in each excerpt indicate characters that were introduced in that unit. Aside from the first grade 1 book, which introduces 94 characters, all the other books introduce between 200 and 250 characters each.
北風ㄏㄨㄏㄨㄏㄨ, 一下子跑到東, 一下子跑到西. The north wind blows east "hoo, hoo, hoo" one moment, and the next moment blows west.
白天, 小松鼠在玩球, 北風大聲的說: "給我! 給我! 我們一起玩!" In the daytime, the little squirrel is playing ball, and the north wind loudly says: "Give it to me! Give it to me! We'll play together!"
晚上, 北風輕輕的說故事給松鼠聽. In the evening, the north wind softly tells a story to the squirrel.
春天來了, 北風說: "小松鼠再見, 再見了!" As spring arrives, the north wind says: "Goodbye little squirrel! Goodbye!"
開學日, On the first day of school,
我們來到新教室, We arrive at our new class,
我坐上新的位子, We sit in new seats,
看一看身邊的朋友, We see our friends next to us,
今天是新學期的開始. Today is the beginning of a new semester.
開學日, On the first day of school,
我們打開新的課本, We open new textbooks,
書中有可愛的圖畫, Within the books there are cute pictures,
書中有好聽的故事, Within the books there are pleasant-sounding stories,
書有新奇的事物, There are many interesting things in the books,
我抱著新書, I hold my new book,
心裡好歡喜. My heart is full of joy.
萊特兄弟是美國人. 小時後, 他們看著鳥兒在天空自在的飛行, 心裡想著: "要是能做一隻'大鳥', 載著人們在天空飛翔, 那是多麼美妙的事啊!" The Wright Brothers were American. When they were children, they saw how birds flew in the sky, and they thought: "If we could build a 'big bird' to take people flying into the sky, that would be a wonderful thing!"
長大以後, 萊特兄弟合開了自行車行, 雖然工作很忙, 但是他們始終懷抱著在天空飛行的夢想. 為了完成夢想,他們先觀察老鷹飛行的動作, 畫出一張又一章的圖, 還閱讀許多有關滑翔機的資料. 經過一次次的修正, 他們終於改良出精巧的滑翔機. 然而, 萊特兄弟並不滿足, 他們的夢想, 是造出一種不靠風力也能飛行的動力機器... After they grew up, the Wright Brothers opened a bicycle shop. Although they were very busy with work, they still held to their dream of flying through the sky. In order to realize this dream, they first studied the way that eagles flew, and drew many pictures of this. They also studied a lot of information on gliders, and made many experiments. In the end they built an improved kind of glider. The Wright Brothers, however, were not satisfied with this, because their dream was to create a flying machine that didn't need to rely on wind power to stay aloft...
"放天燈了!" "Raise the sky lanterns!"
"放天燈了!" "Raise the sky lanterns!"
每年元宵節, 爸爸都會帶我們回到"天燈的故鄉" - 平溪, 和家族的親人聚在一起放天燈.
今天, 我們和往常一樣, 搭小火車回家. 火車才駛出山洞, 妹妹就指著天空, 大喊: "放天燈了!" 我抬頭一看, 果然有幾盞天燈, 好像等不及天黑似的, 已經在昏黃的暮色裡, 慢慢的往上飄. On Lantern Festival every year, father always takes us back to Pingxi, "the hometown of sky lanterns," so that our whole family can raise sky lanterns together. Today we did as we usually do, riding the train back "home." As the train passed through a mountain tunnel, my little sister pointed to the sky and said loudly: "Raise the sky lanterns!" I lifted up my head to see, and suddenly many sky lanterns appeared. It was as if they could not wait for the sky to grow dark, and they were already floating slowly in the dusk.
一回到老家, 大家都立刻圍過來, 相互問候. 爺爺興高采烈的說: "今年我們要彩繪天燈, 用圖畫向上天祈願." 在院子裡, 除了天燈以外, 我還看到許多畫筆和顏料... After we got back home, everyone gathered together and discussed what had happened. Grandfather then excitedly said: "This year we need special sky lanterns, so we will send them skyward with pictures!" Aside from sky lanterns, in the yard there were also drawing pens and pigments...
明天, 明天, 未來似乎有無數個明天! 然而, 我們做事若只是等待明天, 期待明天, 不僅會讓時間從手中流走, 也會坐失許多良機. Tomorrow, tomorrow, the future holds endless tomorrows! However, we often wait until tomorrow to do things, and we are often looking forward to tomorrow, regardless of how time slips through our hands or the opportunities we miss.
錢福寫下明日歌告訴世人: 時間稍縱即逝, 千萬不要虛度光陰, 以免被明日牽絆. 當我們朝看河水東流, 暮看夕陽西下,春去冬來, 年復一年, 鶩然回首, 青春以逝, 人的一生能有多少個明天呢? Chien Fu's "Song of Tomorrow" tells the people of the world: time is fleeting, it is imperative not to waste your time, in order to avoid wasting your tomorrows. When we see the flowing river pass us by, when we see the sun setting in the west, when spring passes into winter, when one year passes into the next, we must step back a moment and consider our mortality. After all, how many tomorrows does one person's life possess?
讀過明日歌, 再讀今日歌, 更能凸顯"今日"的重要. 今日就像流水, 一去不回頭. 今天的事, 如果不去做, 何時才能完成呢? 人生在世, 能有多少個今日? 白白浪費"今日"寶貴的時間, 不是十分可惜嗎? 有人說, 姑且等待明天再做吧! 可是明天還有明天的事啊! After studying the "Song of Tomorrow," and after studying the "Song of Today," we can understand the importance of today. Today is like flowing water, passing on without any return. If today's business is not concluded, when will it be concluded? People live to die, so how many todays do they have? Isn't it a great pity to waste all of the precious time in today? It is said that we can always wait until tomorrow! But tomorrow has its own demands!
中秋節前後, 就是故鄉的桂花季節. 一提到桂花, 那股子香味就彷佛聞到了. 桂花有兩種, 月月開的稱木樨, 花朵較細小, 呈淡黃色, 台灣好像也有, 我曾曾走過人家圍牆外時間到這股香味, 一聞到就會引起鄉愁. 另一種稱金桂, 只有秋天才開, 花朵較大, 呈金黃色. 我家的大宅院中. 前後兩天片曠場, 沿著圍牆, 種的金是金桂. 唯有正屋大廳前的庭院中, 種著兩株木樨, 兩株繡球. 還有父親書房的廊簷下, 是幾盆茶花與木樨相間. In the village, the growing season for osmanthus flowers occurs at about the same time as Mid-Autumn Festival. At the mention of osmanthus flowers, it is as if the remembered smell of these flowers returns. There are two kinds of osmanthus flowers. The variety that opens every month is called sweet clover, its flowers are smaller, and it is a pale yellow. I think Taiwan also has this variety**. When I walk by people's outer walls I can smell this smell, and it causes homesickness. The other variety is the gold osmanthus, and these only open in the fall. The petals are bigger, and it is gold in color. In the big yard of my family's house the petals open during two days, and spread along the outer wall. The gold osmanthus is a kind of gold you can plant. There is a big courtyard in front of my family's house, and there are planted two strains of sweet clover, two strains of hydrangea, and in my father's library there are pots of sweet clover and white camellia.
3. Method of Instruction ***
As I am writing this at the end of the semester, I only had the time to observe two classes. The first of these classes was a first grade class, and the second was a fourth grade class. A short outline describing each class follows.
The teacher began by placing several character cards on the board. These characters are to be found in Unit 8 of their textbooks, and the students are expected to practice writing them at home. They are: 要, 山, 洞, 穿, 原, 平, 過, 快, 排, 車, 火, 八, 去, 回, 哪, 你, and 搭.
After the students were all seated, their teacher asked them to take out their books and turn to Lesson 8. Students then recited a chant several times together. The teacher placed a larger copy of this chant on the board, and referred to it during subsequent discussions.
The remainder of class alternated between repetition of the chant and discussion of the Chinese used in the text. The teacher discussed words with the 火 radical, how to use the character 過 with several verbs ("我去過台北."), how to make sentences longer (from "他走" to "他慢慢走"), verb phrases using two characters ("上學," "開車," etc.), putting these two-character phrases in context ("我每天自己坐車上學"), matching the mode of transportation to its destination, and using the right verb with the right mode of transport ("開車," "騎腳踏車," etc.)
During the last five minutes of class, students completed a textbook grammar exercise together, and the teacher circulated through the room, answering their questions.
The students began class by reciting a passage that their teacher had copied. The teacher then called upon individual rows and individual students to recite the passage.
The students then read through a play. Students were asked to read different parts, and they were told to show the proper emotion and use the correct body language (表情跟動作).
As the class read, they discussed idioms (成語) in the text.
Then the class discussed the characters in the play, their motivations and feelings. They were asked to provide examples of when they felt the same way, and to provide details of the situation that made them feel that emotion.
The students were then asked to memorize parts of the play after class, and class concluded with students completing a section in their workbooks. This section asked them to match idioms with the corresponding emotion. The teacher discouraged students from helping one another find the answers, and told students who didn't know to use their dictionaries.
I found the first grade class much more interesting to watch, probably because it was more different from what I've seen in American Language Arts classrooms. Both classes were taught by excellent teachers, but aside from side discussions of Chinese idioms, the fourth grade class just felt too much like English class in the States.
After watching the first grade class, which was very grammar-oriented, I couldn't help but wonder how one might go about having that kind of class with Taiwanese kids in English. To use an English chant punctuated by grammar discussions at that level would be an unheard-of thing, especially with students in that age group. I have come close to doing this in a private school setting, but to maintain that kind of dialogue with kids in a public elementary school would be an impressive achievement.
But what struck me most forcibly were the similarities between Chinese instruction, as practiced in my school, and English instruction, as myself and others have practiced it in the States. As I watched the two classes, it became clear to me that aside from linguistic differences we are - despite appearances to the contrary - members of the same culture. We might be using different sets of vocabularies to describe our world, but many of the thoughts, feelings, and impressions I gathered from my time in the Chinese classroom were very similar to things I'd hear in an American classroom, with kids the same age.
American Football with Non-Americans 美式足球 (中)
Merry Christmas (Sort of)
Taiwan by the Numbers: People
* Thanks to Teacher 依婷 for help with this part. A discussion of flowers in Chinese? I little out of my depth!
**She thinks "Taiwan also has this variety" because she is reminiscing about her childhood in Mainland China.
***Thanks to Teacher 靖雯 and Teacher 素慧 for letting me watch their classes!