Resource Review: Discover China, Macmillan Education

Tags: Review

Reviewer:  Dr. Zhiyan Guo, University of Warwick.

Books: 

Ding Anqi, Chen Xin, Jing Lili (2010) Discover China Book 1, Oxford: Macmillan Education, 184 pages. ISBN 9780230405950

Qi Shaoyan, Zhang Jie, (2011) Discover China Book 2, Oxford: Macmillan Education, 192 pages. ISBN 9780230406391

The Review:  What I liked: 

Discover China adopted the communicative and integrated approach to teaching Chinese as a foreign language. As the most updated textbooks of teaching Chinese adopting the communicative approach, the authors have successfully engaged learners to acquire the skills of listening and reading, speaking and writing in Chinese at a steady pace and in a balanced and interesting way.

Each book has twelve units and three review units in between (one every four units). In each unit there are three lessons, listening and speaking, reading and writing and communicative activity. Though listening and speaking skills are prioritised in each unit, other skills including reading, writing and the Chinese character writing technique as well as grammar (Language in Use) and cultural knowledge (Cultural Corner) are also incorporated in each unit. To cater for the need of more capable learners, extension vocabulary and activities are designed at the end of each unit.

Discover China has the following distinctive features which make it stand out for practitioners to use in their teaching.

Firstly, it has included multitudes of images; most of them are unique to Chinese culture. The books are intended for university students and adult learners to learn Chinese. The pleasant colours, appropriate pictures and layouts are appealing to this lively group. Also the images and colours suit the learning style of visual learners. Compared to many existing text-based textbooks containing few images, Discover China presents learners a refreshing and exciting path to promising language learning success. I take this feature as most important because by so doing, Discover China breaks through a traditional text-based material design that many existing textbooks had followed. However, learners who grow up with technologies and images are in great need for a non-conventional enlightenment. Moreover, these cultural images (e.g. Chinese New Year iconic images on p. 76-77, Book 1) may have attracted anyone who sees Discover China for the first time, as a result, they cannot help reading them on, just to appreciate the beauty of these images and to get a flavour of the Chinese culture. The potential serious learners of Chinese might well come from these image-readers.

Second, the communicative approach has been fully embodied in the books. They have plenty of communication activities, which put emphasis on the output of learning a language, encourage and facilitate a higher level of fluency. The content of the book is well designed, especially those pair work activities aiming to improve student’s speaking skills. These activities are mostly the type of the information gap exercises, which makes the students’ classroom language practice more meaningful. Discover China is ideal to teach Communicative Chinese to students. The in-class exercise provides a good opportunity for the learners to communicate with people in Chinese under the supervision of teachers. These activities enable students to become more confident in speaking Chinese after each session rather than putting too much focus on reading, writing and grammar. However, the book still explains the grammar and character knowledge in a reasonable length, which does not ignore the accuracy of learning the language. The explanation of Chinese characters within one textbook in a step-by-step and systematic way will inspire the beginners who are intrigued by this special feature of the Chinese language. More importantly, teachers do not need to make extra preparations on teaching characters.

Third, the development of Chinese reading skill in Discover China incorporated the principle of communicative language teaching mainly in two ways. One is the authenticity of reading materials. Admittedly the authenticity of materials is not easy to achieve at the beginner level, but Book 1 has inserted so many real-life reading materials, from luggage slip, cover of envelopes, registration form to email or blog (e.g. of Beijing life) and even small house renting notice (p. 109). They not only give students a genuine taste of China’s indigenous features, but also create a type of trendy and modern atmosphere, which makes language learning lively and authentic. Thus, students can use them straight away in the real world, e.g. travelling in China; also this would save our dedicated teachers’ time in making those themselves---- another excellent teaching support!

The other way in which the reading skill is developed in Discover China is that reading with purposes. In Book 2, there are passages about how to get to Xi’an Terracotta Museum, the tips for healthy life, and etc. This has actually enlarged the genre of reading at the beginning stage, i.e. factual texts are included, rather than merely narrative descriptions as traditionally perceived what beginners can read. More interestingly, narrative texts in Discover China were ‘written’ by learners themselves, e.g. Steve, a student of Chinese, ‘wrote’ about his experience of celebrating Chinese New Year in China. This may not have changed the content about the festival greatly, but the different perspective provides the learners with genuine feeling, and also encourages the current and potential learners and sets a good example for them.

Discover China balanced the four skills in learning Chinese, and this textbook will be ideal for those who wish to learn Chinese from grounding as the four skills were covered really well. Overall, the first two books have focused more on listening, speaking and reading than on writing. Meanwhile, the training of the writing skill seems to have adopted a guided approach to scaffolding students in their writing development, from tracing Chinese characters to completing sentences with new lexical and grammatical items, from translating English sentences to forming small paragraphs with the key words given for some sentences but leaving space for students’ own creativity in constructing the whole. This can be illustrated by the writing activity of describing a major festival in one’s country (p. 40, Book 2).

What could be improved:  

There are only minor reservations for this series. For university students who take Chinese as academic modules, the writing tasks can be more challenging. Therefore, the teachers would add their own writing tasks, based on each unit’s topic, and also in accordance with each individual university’s syllabus design and teaching requirements. Grammatical reference could be more detailed for academic credit-bearing courses.

Summary:

On the whole, Discover China has well organised topics, and the whole presentation is good, with authentic pictures, forms and nice fonts both in English and Chinese, and the layout of contents is excellent. The more I look into the books, the more I like them. The whole design Review Discover China Book 1 and 2 Dr. Zhiyan Guo, University of Warwick 25 January 2013 of the books has full of ideas that I have been using in my own teaching or have been considering to design for myself. Now I have the books and will use those ideas straight away. I certainly recommend Discover China to universities and students of teaching and learning Chinese as a foreign language.