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Chinese Language and Culture Instructional Design for German Students in Chinese Department：Idioms and Proverbs with “Lóng”
Idioms as second language pedagogy
language and culture
language and thought
German students learning Chinese
Scholars of linguistic relativity, developed and advocated by Sapir& Whorf, put forth that language is not merely a reflection of cultures and behaviors, rather language and thought are deeply interrelated and influences each other. Since different languages create different modes of thought, mastering a second language involves not only learning the language itself (linguistic form) but using the logic behind the second language to understand and learn the language. The idioms and general vernacular of a particular country reflect the local culture, lifestyle,and mode of thought. As the content of such phraseology is rich and derived from the speaker’s experience with environment—including the people, occurrences, and the material world therein—an idiom-based pedagogy cannot be purely linguistic, but must also include elements of culture and mode of thought. Chinese idioms are characterized by specific structure and cultural connotations, making them challenging for language learners. Cai Zhimin (2001), Zhang Junsong (2003), and Huang Lizhen (2013), among others, have shown that even advanced Chinese learners often cannot use, or misuse, Chinese idioms, highlighting not just the importance but also the meaning and value of teaching idioms. Indeed, many scholars are currently discussing and researching on materials and dictionaries specifically designed for teaching Chinese idioms to foreign students. In her research, Xu Yupei (2010) found that the majority of Chinese language educators consider idioms more suitable for students at intermediate-level or higher to learn. However, according to the questionnaires used in this study, 75% of students at the beginner and intermediate levels are already interested in learning idioms. Further, the results of post-teaching idiom test showed that even learners at the beginner level answered idiom-based questions correctly 70% of the time, a score that was on par with their intermediate and upper-intermediate counterparts. This suggests that studying idioms is viable even at beginner levels. The research was conducted by collecting questionnaires and in-depth and follow-up interviews. Our subjects were 31 students from the department of Sinology at M University in Germany. The questionnaire was comprised of three parts: First, a survey on the students’ idiom-learning background; second, mind mapping experiment; and third, association test. The survey found that materials for teaching idioms used by the department concentrated on introducing idioms through stories behind them and lacked the teaching and practice of how to apply such idioms, thus students focused more on learning other vocabulary in the texts rather than idioms and regarded idioms as a reference for stories. As a result, students neither remembered idiom meanings nor were they able to use them after listening to the stories. Mind mapping tests for the word ‘dragon’ produced the following initial associations and overall percentages thereof, respectively: fire 52%, myth 39%, gigantic or dangerous 32%, and evil 26%. Given the same test, Taiwanese subjects came up with these connotations: emperor 57%, snake 23%, dragon ball 20%, and Dragon King of the Seas 13%. It is evident from these statistics that the German concept of the same word is vastly different from that of Taiwanese subjects, indicating that for students whose cultures are different from that of the second-language they are learning, learning a word with culture-specific connotations requires changing one’s original cultural perception and concept about that word, which is bound to be challenging. In the association test, there are twenty 20 Chinese idioms presented in bilingual form, where each Chinese character of an idiom is paired with a German word explaining the character’s meaning. Students were asked to write down possible meanings or associations for each idiom based on the Chinese and German words. The results showed that, for students, the idioms can be divided into three categories: first, idioms whose meanings are easy to associate with; second, idioms whose associations by students are vary greatly among individuals; and third, idioms whose meanings are difficult to associate with. For the first category, such idioms can be easily understood by rephrasing it as a sentence with a clear subject and predicate. For the second, teachers must first provide students with background information on the idiom (such as the people, occurrence or situation of the story behind it) and then connect the background with the predicate in order to help student make the correct association. Lastly, to understand idioms whose meanings are difficult to associate with, teachers can first highlight specific characters and its definition of an idiom then provide visual aids to help students understand the idiom better.
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