Article (1)

from Chronicle of Higher Education

By Bianca P. Floyd


"If you want to understand a culture," says Hong Gang Jin, "if you want to become more internationally minded, you have to get a real sense of mastering the language."

But not all languages are easy to master&emdash;least of all, Chinese. Ms. Jin, an associate professor of Chinese at Hamilton College, says the language imposes extra burdens on students. So she counters by incorporating as much technology as possible into her course materials&emdash;including a multimedia CD-ROM that she created with her husband, De Bao Xu, an assistant professor Chinese at Hamilton.

The CD-ROM is called "Chinese Breakthrough: Learning Chinese Language Through TV and Newspapers." It features animation, photographs, audio and video clips, and interactive activities, all based on authentic Chinese-language materials&emdash;most notably, television-news stories broadcast in China. Ms. Jin says the news excerpts help students become comfortable with the language's vocabulary and nuances, enabling them to interact freely with the language on many levels.

This month, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education recognized Ms. Jin's efforts in the classroom, as well as her work on the CD-ROM, by naming her as the 1998 Outstanding Baccalaureate College Professor.

The CD-ROM contains 15 lessons divided into four units&emdash;daily news, business and economics, current events, and sports. Each lesson contains an introductory presentation, interactive dialogues, self-directed exercises on news comprehension, and a vocabulary review.

The program helps students learn the basics of the Chinese writing system, as well as the intricacies of spoken Chinese. "Unlike English, where students learn the pronunciation and that's it," she says, her students must learn "a specific tonal system that is a part of Chinese language."

When they're not practicing speaking by responding to interactive dialogues, students ca watch a guided broadcast of a Chinese news program, complete with a transcript. The CD-ROM also contains video clips from popular Chinese movies, as well as information on directors and actors, including people whose work has been criticized by the Chinese government.

Ms. Jin, who grew up in China, says it's important to teach students about both Chinese culture and issues facing Chinese citizens from day to day. One of the biggest difficulties in assembling the CD-ROM, she adds was getting permission from the Chinese government to use the video clips, even for educational purposes.

She is negotiating with a publishing company that appears interested in releasing the CD-ROM commercially, she says. Programs for intermediate and beginning Chinese are also being developed, she adds.