Jinbu Chinese textbook - Independent Review

Tags: Review

Resource Title:   Jìn bù 11-14 Mandarin Chinese (Volume  1) Textbook.  Author:   Bin, Y. Zhu, Z. & Carruthers, K

Cost (RRP):  £13.99 (Student’s textbook)

Available from:   Pearson Education & Heath Books 

Reviewer:  Gina Jamieson

Description:   Jìn bù 11-14 Mandarin Chinese is a Foundation GCSE two year course, and has been written by a team of Chinese teachers from SSAT Confucius Classrooms to meet the needs of pupils taking Chinese as a second language.   It is published by Heinemann, the UK's number one Modern Languages publisher in collaboration with the Schools and Academies Trust (SSAT) who to support Mandarin Chinese teaching in UK schools 

This is the first of two Pupil Books in Jìn bù, one for each year group. Each one includes a wide variety of activities so lessons can be tailored for different abilities. Every chapter of the Pupil Book includes:

·         Activities covering all four language skills on every spread

·         Plenty of illustrations and photographs to keep pupils engaged 

·         Grammar tips on every spread to help pupils understand key concepts

·         Writing exercises to help with character acquisition

·         An ‘Investigating characters’ unit to show pupils how radicals relate to their meanings making them easier to remember

·         A unit exploring Chinese culture.

Comments from the Authors/Editor:   The Pupil Book also comes with a Workbook full of exercises to reinforce learning and a detailed Teacher’s Guide written by one of the most experienced Chinese teachers in the country. The Teacher’s Guide is full of advice, guidance and activities for use by teachers. The intention is for the resources to support teachers fully throughout lesson planning and delivery. The books look and feel like Heinemann books for other foreign languages in order to ‘mainstream’ Chinese.

A feature of the Pupil Book not mentioned in the previous section is the emphasis on learning to read characters without relying on pinyin. In the Pupil Book, pinyin is printed next to each new character introduced and is broken down into syllables, rather than grouped into words. This is done on purpose to encourage learners to see pinyin merely as a pronunciation system, rather than almost – as is often the case – an alternative romanized language. Once the pupil is familiar with the sound, the pinyin is then removed for reading activities. Pupils find characters interesting and exciting and enjoy the challenge of reading without pinyin.

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 :   Jìn bù is the first textbook of Chinese to mirror the familiar layout of other Western textbooks with multifarious activities testing each of the four skills.  This, for me, is a major attraction of the textbook.  Moreover there is very little reliance on pinyin, indeed the first two pages contain no pinyin at all.  Students are encouraged to explore characters and become familiar with writing them from the very start of the textbook.  Chapters end with sections on investigating characters and their radicals which help students to identify the various levels of meaning in characters and the links between them.

There is a logical progression through the topics with the chapters being divided evenly and the topics being worked through progressively, with students building up on their previous learning as they work their way through the chapters.  All of which means that the learning progress is quick and improvements can be seen not only by teachers but, more importantly, the students.  The array of activities helps to vary lessons and make the learning as realistic as possible.  Furthermore, at the end of the chapter there are Extension activities and a short test that help students to monitor their progress and assess their achievements and any areas requiring further work.  There are also cultural expos introducing areas of China’s culture for students to explore, rounding off their learning.

At the back of the textbook students have explanations for the grammar introduced in the textbook; as well as a section of writing Chinese characters and a glossary of vocabulary from the textbook.

How could the resource be improved?   One major disadvantage for me is that though a second book to complete the series is due out early 2011 (note by CSR:  Vol 2 is now published), the textbook itself feels too short. Might what has been fitted into two volumes have been condensed into one, as with other language textbooks?  Students have also commentated that the small font size of the characters and general writing inhibits their learning which is crucial for a beginner’s textbook.  In particular the students have commented that the Stroke Order section at the end of chapters is too small to see clearly the stroke order of key characters from that chapter. This is a pity given one of, if not, the key strength of the book is its approach to characters.

Why and how did I use this resource?   I have used this textbook since October (approximately, for 4 months) with beginners on my Y10 course (aged 13-14) who have reacted well to it.  Their learning is a lot more solid and progressive than previous year groups who have used other textbooks.  The chapters have been followed progressively with many of the activities fitting well into lessons and providing good practice for all four language skills – listening, speaking, reading and writing.

Why may others use this resource?   I would recommend this resource to any other Chinese language teachers as it provides a sound foundation for those beginning to learn Chinese; as well as students who have learnt some Chinese at KS2 and are ready to take steady and manageable steps in consolidating their learning.  With the emphasis being on making Chinese characters accessible this will support all students as they get the ‘basics’ right, whilst the Extension sections can be used to challenge and progress those students who already have some Chinese knowledge.  With careful planning, this resource could be used well for beginner classes of mixed abilities.  For one like myself, a non-Chinese native, who grew up using textbooks such as Tout Droit when at school, it is refreshing to have a textbook that is similar in format which can be used and relied upon well in class. 

However, how far I would recommend Jin Bu for GCSE students depends on how far the second volume will progress learners.  If the second volume allows students’ learning to progress as well as providing a good bridge to the levels of the Edexcel GCSE Chinese textbook that is available then my recommendation would be high. 

Conclusions / other comments:   Jìn bù is proving itself very suitable for those students who are total beginners to Chinese as well as for those who already know some Chinese.  There are a variety of exercises that can be worked through as a class to judge each students’ levels and then exercises which are more suitable for beginners, as well as exercises that are more suitable for those students who already have some Chinese knowledge and can work independently to begin with.  There will naturally be times when teachers will want the students to look at grammar together and to complete pair or group work; however, the extension activities and the accompanying workbook will support and challenge those students who already possess some Chinese ensuring all are catered for and all progress.

I myself will complete this textbook with my Y10 students, supplementing their learning with alternative resources until Jin Bu 2 is published.  Up until both books are published it is impossible to say the full effectiveness of the series and I look forward to having both at hand to properly judge them.

(Note by Pete from The Chinese Staffroom:  Since this review was written, Volume 2 has now been published.  This review will be updated shortly)