píng guǒ shuō- Apples talk

If you use google translate and listen to the first two words on this chart, maybe you will be like me and find them quite similar.

朋友 péng yǒu friend
苹果 píng guǒ apple
shuō talk
中 文 zhōng wén Mandarin
请 帮 我 qǐng bāng wǒ Help me


On Monday, I asked Virginia, our Deputy Principal, to come and observe me teaching Mandarin. My two goals were to use the Mandarin language 100% in instruction and for the children to be using the language as much as possible.

Linguistically the strategy is known as ‘forced output’. Me I call it Flippin’ hard.

My lesson focus was to recap on term ones learning and to find out how much had been retained and to extend our native Mandarin speakers in using numbers.

Anyway, I began with some songs because the teachers I work with have asked me for more songs to help them and the children learn vocabulary and also phrases.

I also included the songs we were practicing for our team’s turn for the upcoming school assembly. Then I had some children come up and share their learning and was proud to see our non native speakers stand up and share their growing vocabulary.

After this introduction the class was split into three groups and I sent the teachers off with their group to practice some previous lesson’s activities. One group worked on questions and answers. The third group worked on colours.

I took the extension group to extend their number knowledge and also for me to learn numbers in isolation. For example I can count to ten but ask me ‘What is 9 Sonya?’ I count on my fingers and then tell you what 9 is. I need to know my numbers because I am desperately learning how to tell the time in my own Mandarin learning. When my tutor asks me the time, I need to use my fingers and need a long processing wait time before responding. I really want to be able to flip back the answer straight away without translating and or using my fingers.

My group lesson

So I took some playing cards and I set up a line of numbers and through hand signals, modelling and the white board was able to get across that the children were to add two numbers together and give me the full response in Mandarin.

Then I asked the children to turn to their 苹果 (Píng guǒ) and 说 (shuō) in 中 文 (zhōngwén) ….. Meaning: turn to your friend and talk using Mandarin.

By this stage, Ginny my observer was nearly rolling on the floor with laughter. I knew straight away what I had said because I know how similar 苹果 (Píng guǒ) is to 朋友(Péngyǒu) But for the life of me I could not remember which was correct. So I turned to one of my little teachers and said 请 帮 我 (qǐng bāng wǒ) -help me. He corrected me and we continued the lesson. Ginny speaks Cantonese and knows some Mandarin and yes we know each other really well and have a history of mutual respect.

After the session Ginny gave me some fabulous feedback. She always knows how hard to stretch my learning. The first thing I wanted to know was, did I full fill my two goals? She said yes pretty much. I would have had my lesson in 97% Mandarin. Yes too, to the children sharing their learning and on me limiting teacher talk.

From my feedback these are my next steps.

I need to increase the font size of my resources. Because even digitally, they are too small. I need a few more formulaic expressions to add to my growing list. These are

  • Make a circle
  • Talk to your friend in Mandarin.

I am really lucky because I have access to our parent community and they are willing to help. My next step is to bring them into my lessons to help me teach it. 


On Thursday I had the ALLiS Lead teachers come to Newmarket for our monthly meeting. My principal was present at the meeting and the first thing she said was ‘Share your apple story.’ So I did. I know that sometimes the funny incidents help break the ice for a new group coming together and getting to know each other. 

I shared my lesson resource blog with our ALLiS Cluster teachers. This space is where I am placing anything I use in one space so that other teachers who are willing to have a go at teaching Mandarin can do this. The space currently has videos I have used from youtube, however as our children learn, I will go back and replace the originals with what they do. I have to acknowledge too the huge work that our Mandarin Language Assistance did when they were with us. All their resources are available too to our teachers and have helped me immensely in what I am doing.

The bonus of having a blog, which I had not considered was I can place a homelink on the student iPads and they can come back and go over the lessons too. I know, the students should have been my first consideration when making the resource. However I was creating something and I love to tinker around learning. Already my mind is racing with possibilities. I am also using the site to curate some of my own language learning lessons. So when I have a moment, I can quickly pull it up and recap on any device. 


On Friday our little ones stood up and shared their Mandarin learning with the whole school. I was so proud I could pop. At the same time I am incredibly proud of the teachers that I am working with in Te Ako Kowhai because they are also learning with me and are willing to learn too with the children. I thank them for practicing the songs and poems every day as this helps me tremendously in growing our children’s vocabulary.


At our school our children learn Te Reo as well as Mandarin so most of our children will exit Newmarket School as Qualinguals. You read correctly,  four languages because most of our children are already fluent orally in two languages when they arrive. I really like too how learning TeReo and Mandarin gives our learners a chance to shine because once you learn another language, then learning a third and fourth is a lot easier.

Me as a learner

The children take great delight in making me practice my Mandarin so love coming up and asking me basic questions. The parents have even taken part too and greet me in Mandarin and ask me how I am. I now  know three differing ways of greeting them back and have learnt how to respond when I am asked ‘Ni Hao Ma? (How are you? I used to always say 我饿了(wǒ è le) – I am hungry. But I can now say 我 很 好 (wǒ hěn hǎo) as well as a few others.

Coming up as part of my learning another language.

I have another observation coming up this week as part of my TPDL course and I am looking forward to that happening on Wednesday.

Next week I have two sessions at Auckland university around pedagogy as part of my TPDL course. I have finally completed my registration for that. I just need to finish the Ellis booklet.

I have had my abstract accepted for the New Zealand Association of Language Teachers (NZALT) conference. http://www.eenz.com/nzalt16/.

I am still attending my Wednesday Mandarin course at Unitec which takes four hours out of my day. I enjoy the train ride and the walk time as I use this quiet time for reflection. This week I created some vocabulary slides to help me memorise seasons, weather and days of the week. 

I have investigated sitting the Hànyǔ Shuǐpíng Kǎoshì (HSK) Level 1 test. The test is designed for learners who can understand and use some simple Chinese characters and sentences to communicate. In New Zealand the test is offered by Confucius twice a year. I aim to sit this first level in November.  I have found this fabulous app that helps me memorise Chinese characters using flashcards. The app is called Find a pair. It is free and I really like it. I have gone on and bought the next level but at this stage that is too difficult for me.

I can now read 11 characters.






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