Resource Review: GCSE Chinese (Sinolingua) - Textbook and Workbook

Tags: Review

Resource Title: GCSE Chinese textbook and workbook (Sinolingua)

Author: Xiaoqi Li

Cost (RRP): Textbook £13.99 and workbook £10.99

Available from: Cypress Books

Reviewer: Gina Jamieson

Description: Especially designed for teaching Chinese to UK secondary school students.  From the author that wrote the British Council’s Chinese for GCSE series, this is the first of three volumes that will cover the vocabulary, grammar and topics listed in the Edexcel and AQA new Chinese GCSE specification.  The difficulty of the level of the vocabulary, grammar and content is raised as student’s progress through the series.  

Learning tips help students easily grasp the core content of each lesson.  The summary at the end of every unit help students consolidate the previous lessons, and prepare to learn new content. Cultural tips at the end of each unit make learning Chinese interesting and fun.  A workbook, a teachers’ book, Chinese character flash cards, wall charts, and multimedia support through an accompanying CD of listening material.  There is also PowerPoint courseware for Chinese GCSE Book 1, which is a teacher’s best companion to the instruction of the course book.

This series is also suitable for students sitting the IB and those wishing to learn through independent study. 

Comments from the Authors/Editor: Annabel Parker (Consulting Editor): Chinese GCSE is written by the same team of people who wrote ‘Kuaile Hanyu’ (Chinese for GCSE). It is an improved edition according to the new GCSE specifications from both AQA and Edexcel.  Four experienced UK Mandarin teachers took part in editing the book. During the process of the rewrite, many teachers were consulted and their advice/suggestions were considered. The significant changes to the book are the way the book presents and, most importantly, the book is more student friendly.

The book successfully caters for all abilities, for example there are gaps between sentences for students to write note, and students have the choice to cover the pinyin if they wish to. The text for each lesson has no pinyin, this is to support higher ability student's learning.  The exercises designed to improve students’ reading and writing skills make minimal use of pinyin and there are big boxes and clear stroke order making it easy for students to write. The unit summary has an English translation which supports students' learning and helps with their self-evaluation. In each lesson there are clear Lesson Objectives which help the students to understand their level and how to improve. There is also be a workbook which includes different level exercises to meet all students' needs as well as exam focused exercise.  The workbook will save time for teachers in preparing additional material for students to work on in school or at home.

Chinese GCSE is very much a new and improved version of ‘Kuaile Hanyu’.

Reviewer Profile:  Gina Jamieson graduated from the University of Durham’s former Department of East Asian Studies with honours in Chinese Studies before going on to complete an MA in the Theory and Practice of Translation at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.  After graduating from her bilingual PGCE (French and Chinese)at the University of Sheffield, she completed her NQT in June 2010 and is current Mandarin teacher at Djanogly City Academy, one of England’s five original Confucius Classrooms, where Chinese is taught at KS3, KS4 and KS5.  With the help of the Classroom’s visiting Hanban teachers, Chinese language and culture are promoted and supported throughout the East Midlands.

Things I liked about the resource : The major plus to this resource for myself is the amount of topics that are covered, encouraging students to advance quickly with quite sophisticated language.  The layout of the textbook is attractive with a wonderfully bright front cover which students pointed out to me as being more culturally significant and more impressive than Jin Bu 1 & Edexcel GCSE CHinese. 

The layout of the chapters is identical for each and contains new words and dialogues and activities testing all four language skills.  Learning objectives are provided at the beginning of each lesson, along with the key sentences that will be learnt and practised.  At the end of lesson there is  phonetics practice which advances from pinyin phonetics to rhymes, tongue twisters and classical poems.  Moreover, at the end of each chapter there is a cultural expo on one aspect of Chinese culture which broadens the students’ learning experience.  When asked, students were particularly impressed with the size of the font, especially with the character practice exercises where the boxes for practice are large and the stroke order easy to see.  This was especially appealing to the less able students who found this more reassuring.  The activities and exercises test all four language skills and the audio CD is pleasant to listen to and easy to use.

The Chinese GCSE workbook continues with the themes of the textbook and offers further opportunities to practise and consolidate the language of each chapter through skill-specific exercises.  There are lots of activities for each skill, which are all mixed together and equally  tested and support students in their familiarisation of the language, building up from basic knowledge to more complex use of the words.  A big bonus for the workbook is that as the chapters progress students are given no help with pinyin; this 'forces' students on to honing their higher levels of comprehension and language acquisition.

How could the resource be improved?  I personally feel that the exercises are not challenging enough for more able students, who would tire of the repetition and miss the challenge of alternative exercises.  It would fall to teachers to create scenarios where the language could be used more realistically with class surveys and dialogues; not, by any means, an impossible task, but time consuming for teachers who are already pressed for time and with able students in their class.  That said, a workbook is now available, with a variety of exercises based on the textbook. 

Whilst the presence of pinyin reduces as the book progresses and the language being covered becomes more sophisticated, there is still too much pinyin for my liking.  Whilst this may support students as they come across new words and language patterns, for basic characters that have already been learnt the pinyin should not be needed as students learning Chinese are more likely to focus on the pinyin rather than the characters.   Apparently in the forthcoming  volume 2, minimal pinyin is used.

The audio CD to the book lacks long pieces of free following speech for students to start getting accustomed to.  This is a  disadvantage as it fails to give students the opportunity to frequent more natural ways of speaking and does not support their supposed increased levels of listening. Whilst such speech might appear too advanced, for pupils to get accustomed to hearing it is important if they are not too assume that this level is not beyond their reach.

So whilst this book works well for less able and reasonably able students, both of whom would find the repetition of exercises and pinyin reassuring, any teachers using the book would need to look out for pupils not being stretched sufficiently by it.

I cannot really find fault with the workbook, and in many ways it is preferable to the workbook provided alongside Jin Bu 1 because of the way in which the difficulty level increases the further students work their way through the textbook/workbook.  The presentation of the workbook is not as appealing as Jin Bu 1's but the activities ensure good language practice is embedded.  The workbook is suitable for self-study, although an answers section would be a helpful addition to support this.

Why and how did I use this resource?   Students have seen the textbook and responded well to it, particularly the lesser able students, so I intend to use this resource once the chapters from Jin Bu 1 have been completed.  However, there will be a lot of altering and extra resources needed to ensure the work remains as challenging and progressive for my more able students.

I have been using the workbook  initially with students to help with their revision of previously taught topics to help refresh and consolidate the language.  I have set tasks for students to complete in class and will use it to support homework and after-school practice of the language.

Why may others use this resource? Chinese language teachers will find this a useful teaching resource that supports students at the start of their language learning and gives them a firm foundation on which to extend and build.  Volumes 2 and 3 are yet to be released. I will be interested to know if they follow the same linear pattern as Volume 1.  Ideally the pattern should be progressive to stop boredom and to prepare for the higher language levels required at GCSE.  The next two volumes will need to test the students with more challenging exercises that test all four language skills in more depth to create a  firm and confident progression to GCSE level.  Certainly the anticipated reduction in pinyin usage in volume 2 will help in my view.

Chinese language teachers may use the workbook resource to support language learning for their beginners, as well as revision for topics during exam preparation.  If students are able to have their personal copies, sections can be set as homework and peer-assessed in class to judge their learning.  All-in-all it is a wonderful workbook and encourages students to expand and increase their language ability.

Conclusions / other comments: I intend to use this textbook in the near future for the progression of my Y10 students in their learning but also for supportive provision for lesser able students who would find the layout and exercises reassuring and whose confidence would, as a result, blossom.  Despite some of the weaknesses of the textbook I am fond of the series, especially with the addition of the workbook and would recommend it for teachers to use with students who are beginning to learn Chinese.  I am keen to see the next books in the series.