Asian Languages and Literatures Summer Reading Circle 2023

15 September 2023
By Lei Yang, Assistant Professor of Chinese, and Lin Deng, Lecturer in Chinese

Our reading circle this year focused on the book: Wang, H. & Liu, G. (Eds.), Cross-cultural communication: Teaching Chinese in the global context. Beijing: Peking University Press, 2021. This book is a collection of 48 articles by Chinese language instructors ranging from primary to higher education from the five continents. The thoughts and ideas discussed in the book filled up all three meetings we had in August. A summary of our major gains is as follows.

Our first discussion centered around the goal of foreign language education in terms of cultural learning. Numerous examples in the book echo with an important shift advocated by the 2007 MLA report, namely, learners should be situated in the position of a translingual and transcultural subject who is capable of actively observing and analyzing linguistic and cultural differences. We reflected on how our current coursework addressed such transcultural competence and came up with several changes we could implement in the future. We were particularly enthusiastic in installing an important change that would turn our course orientation into an effective practice on transcultural competence by guiding students to discover how Chinese classrooms differ from American ones and develop together a code of conduct they are willing to commit themselves to in Chinese classes. 

Our second discussion focused on assessing students’ transcultural competence. We took special interests in articles that introduce how students are evaluated in different countries, such as France and the United States. The authors shared their reflections on formative and summative assessments. Two principles raised in the book are particularly inspiring, namely, the sustainability and diversity of assessment. In other words, sustainable feedback across weeks and diverse perspectives within evaluations are more helpful than one-time and single-dimension evaluations. On the basis of the book, we discussed the possibility of including peer-evaluation in our project-based assignments and self-evaluation in the middle of the term and at the end of the term, helping improve fairness in grading, motivate students’ awareness of their learning progress, and stimulate their participation in culture related coursework. We hope that those new measures will encourage our students to be more proactive and devoted learners.      

The last discussion session was devoted to specific areas where teachers in the book worked on to promote culture learning. We identified three aspects we could improve in the future. First, more deliberate efforts can be made to creatively enrich in-class language drills and activities with cultural comparison. Second, we noticed in the book that traditional Chinese festivals and Chinese food occupied an important place in those teachers’ curricular and extracurricular activities. Compared to their efforts, we came to see how hands-on experience can be further enriched in our program and become great starting points for initiating transcultural discussions. Third, we noticed that many teachers in the book attributed their success to their community reaching out and building efforts whereby cultural exchanges took place naturally. This finding gave us a new understanding of our existing extracurricular activities and we had extensive discussion on the practical ways to foster students’ transcultural competence.

The aforementioned discussions offer us a wonderful opportunity to reflect on how to teach culture in our language courses from a global and empirical perspective. We are excited to implement the findings in our future teaching!