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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Studying Mandarin Chinese : Canadian students’ experiences Mah, Donna E.


Experiences of studying Mandarin Chinese as a language program at the elementary school level are explored to find out what it means for Canadian students to study Chinese. Five students, two who were of Chinese heritage, and three who were not, were invited to talk about their experiences in the language class by engaging in conversation with their former teacher, as researcher. Themes believed to be already present within the students' words were uncovered first. Following that, the themes were re-visited and re-constituted to produce new ways to understand the familiar concepts of language, culture, and curriculum that the students had come to accept as valid and believable. In re-constituting the substance of the conversations, the following realizations emerged. Language and cultural studies are often viewed as a set of concrete skills and knowledge that can be acquired, hence, language as a commodity is viewed as the dominant objective. However, engaging in a study of language and culture is more than the mere acquisition of skills; it provides learners with opportunities to explore and develop new ways to re-understand themselves and their own cultures as their new understandings help them to reconstitute themselves. Another propensity of the language curriculum is that of unlocking the target culture by using mostly voyeuristic, museum approaches. Challenging the commonly-accepted and culturally-constructed beliefs that have come to be associated with learning a new language, gives us the chance to rethink what it means to study Mandarin Chinese in British Columbia in the1990's. The objectives that have been allowed to dominate language education must be challenged for they are somewhat limited and narrow in scope. This thesis endeavours to show that by continuing to validate the limited and narrowly conceived meta-narratives, it only promotes more binary thinking and resists the creation of new spaces for developing more rich and varied language opportunities for our students. It is in the space between languages and cultures, that something new can be created by the students themselves, as they are encouraged to develop their intra-cultural and inter-cultural relations with others.

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