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Step 2: Equip - making sure every learner has an offline and online digital dictionary
In this series, I’m sharing seven areas I pre-teach to new learners before starting any course or programme. They are:
Digital Dictionaries 📓
Stroke Order 🖌
Tones & Numbers 1️⃣
For teaching purposes, I reframe the steps like this:
Inspire: Have a sparkly eyed “aha” learning moment with characters (details here)
Equip: As soon as possible, equip learners with a digital/web based Mandarin dictionary & set up input of Mandarin in phones & computers
Write: Begin to learn and value the importance of stroke order
Appreciate: Start to recognise and appreciate basic radicals
Type: Know the basic rules of pinyin
Count: Memorise the numbers 1-10 by heart in correct tones
Tingxie: Have a positive experience of doing an (often dreaded) dictation
When I started teaching Mandarin, I had many students who had been learning for several months but did not know how to use a dictionary or how to input characters. This quote sums up why I think it’s vital to get learners using a dictionary as a first step to learning Mandarin:
Session 2 objective:
In this lesson, the main objective is to get learners set up with an offline digital Mandarin dictionary, and being able to type characters into their phones.
The measure of success or achievement is that learners are experimenting with typing character messages in their phones, preferably with the words learned in the last lesson.
Session 2 outline: Equip new students with dictionaries & inputting
Refresh: First review the characters shared in the first lesson.
你， 好，我，叫，呢 ，再，见
I typically go through a set of flashcards for these and praise a lot where they’re able to remember the characters, to help motivate students.
Classroom vocab: In this lesson, I introduce the first set of classroom vocabulary: namely, the word 老师 - and explain that you put the teachers’ first name before 老师.
Share learning objective: I share that today we are going to set up our dictionaries.
Plenary: Ask learners how they might learn how to read the characters from the last lesson if they didn’t have a teacher telling them.
Some answers might include: Google translate camera version, or copy and pasting if possible into translation software.
Praise their ideas, and explain the best way for a student of Mandarin would be with a dictionary.
Pleco installation: ask learners to install Pleco app on their phones.
Bookmarking MDBG.net: ask learners to open their browser on phone or laptop and go to www.mdbg.net and bookmark it
Inputting Mandarin set up: ask learners to set up their phones or laptops with inputting for Mandarin. There is a detailed explanation of how to set this up in this post. I usually make sure they have pinyin and handwriting added.
Search existing character challenge: now they have dictionary access, ask learners to try finding the characters they already learned using the tool - typing ni, or trying to draw 你 into the input area. They will stumble a lot and it may get messy - this is normal and can even be fun! Just let them try and explore the new apps and inputting feature.
Analyse Pleco entry: I show that Pleco’s main value at the beginner stage is:
Being able to view the stroke order in the second tab (no need to go into details of this yet)
Being able to view the pronunciation and pinyin (separate and as compound words)
Being able to type English or Mandarin and having answers immediately appear
Having offline use
Fun moment: ask learners to type ‘haha’ into Pleco or MDBG, and let them discover that even laughter has it’s own character.
Type first character into WhatsApp chat: Let students join the class whatsapp if available, and type their first haha characters into the chat.
New character challenge: Typically, the above setup usually takes a considerable time! If there is extra time and a further challenge is appropriate, I share unseen characters and challenge students to try and find their meaning using their new tools.
Wrap up: summarise the lesson and congratulate students on being able to type in characters and be equipped with a dictionary!
Note that by the end of this lesson, you probably have students who have realised there is a specific method to writing characters. They probably didn’t draw the characters into the input box correctly, and struggled a bit.
Let them know that in the next lesson we’ll be enhancing our inputting skills in the next lesson by learning about stroke order. It will make things much easier.
This lesson should leave new learners feeling very much equipped to take on tackling any new character they come across.
How do you teach new learners to use dictionaries? Do you go in depth, or keep it at a surface level?