#HowWeGotThis | Mandarin Teacher | C. MESNILDREY

Chinese New Year is taking place on FEB 12. It was the occasion to meet Christelle MESNILDREY, Mandarin teacher at LFSF, for this new edition of #HowWeGotThis. Christelle is sharing her passion about teaching Madarin and how she is adapting her teaching approach during Covid-19 pandemic.

LFSF : Hi Christelle, could you please introduce yourself and tell us more about your role at LFSF?

Christelle: I'm French and I’m from Brittany. The reference to Brittany is important because within France, it’s the second region for teaching Chinese language!  I started teaching there in 2005, after the Cross-Cultural programs France-China, that were a tipping point in the discipline. The Brittany region positioned itself as a real pioneer in the development of Chinese language programs with the implementation of one of the very first international Chinese sections in Rennes. I was in charge of setting up this section, following 100 students, from Gr6 to 12, leading the class of 2017 to their French Baccalaureate exam.  The teaching of Chinese is still in a consolidation phase. For many of us, being a Mandarin teacher means more than merely teaching that language. It also implies growing the interest for this subject amongst students and families. It is with this mindset that I arrived three years ago at the LFSF.

LFSF :  Why did you choose to become a language teacher and what does it mean for you? How did you discover Mandarin?

Christelle: I have been teaching for 15 years. I started studying Chinese at the age of 14. Where? In Rennes, Brittany of course ! In the 80’s, Chinese was only available in 8th Grade (4ème), as a third language. My family didn’t have any connection with the Asian world, but I was intrigued by the Chinese characters that I was poised to decipher. That curiosity has lasted to this day! 

(LFSF is Celebrating the Chinese New Year, which is FEB 12 this year)

At the time, I would never have imagined becoming a teacher. After my studies at the “Institut des Langues et Civilisations Orientales”, considered the "Mecca" of Oriental language teaching in Paris, and a few trips to China, I had several professional experiences abroad that I then validated through an MBA. Right after, with a growing interest for the Chinese language in France, I started by giving some lessons and that led to a radical change in my career : I became a teacher. My job brings me great pleasure from introducing young students, mostly non-Chinese speaking, to this language and its culture, to helping them understand the composition of an ideogram, coaching them through the mental gymnastics of building a sentence or sensibilizing them to the intonations and pronunciations.

Fundamentally, I enjoy sharing the beauty of opening up to another culture, trying to understand it, and ultimately engage and exchange with others and oneself. This is even more true today!

LFSF :  Opening up to different languages and cultures is crucial in the development of future enlightened and tolerant citizens. What’s your teaching approach to keep students engaged, curious and interested in learning Mandarin?

 Christelle: Learning Chinese takes time. It’s a long process, you have to be patient, humble, accept the unknown, accept not to understand. Sustaining the desire to learn this language and culture is therefore crucial when you teach Chinese. The biggest challenge is to be demanding while inspiring the desire to keep on learning.

Fundamentally, I enjoy sharing the beauty of opening up to another culture, trying to understand it, and ultimately engage and exchange with others and oneself. This is even more true today!

First of all, you need to feed the curiosity of the students, by asking them questions such as ”Why do we wear red on Chinese New Year?” or “Why is November 11th the bachelor's day”?

Most of the class work is research and cultural project based. For example, using historical events and being able to present them in Chinese. Then students can apply this knowledge and talk about themself, their own story. This approach helps to build confidence which is essential to the learning process. 

This energy is also important in learning ideograms. When traveling within China, you quickly realize the great importance of the written word, so important that Chinese people refer to it as "as precious as having a son at home". Everything is a character: store signs, hotel names, train tickets…

For that reason, the focus on memorization and rigor is intense and only compensated by the beauty of the brush strokes that form the characters. To help memorize these characters, we rely on personal stories, one’s imagination and creativity. 

(A Travel Padlet made by Sacha Lee, a student in Grade 9)

Speaking the language and oral expression are also very important. As stated in the program, they complete the written form but are dissociated from it. Indeed, students don’t need to know how to write everything in order to express themselves. For instance, "Sortez vos affaires" is a grammatical structure only learned in high school, but orally understood from Gr 6. Role-playing is very powerful and very much appreciated, whether through interviews with basketball player Yaoming, or the 8th century poet Li Bai, or in stand-up comedy that allows students to talk about their experience and about themselves.

Finally, to further stimulate my students’ motivation, I’ve been inviting my students to gradually use digital tools in their class works, creating for example a Garage Band piece that goes with the reading of a poem or using a Padlet Wall to talk about their favorite trip...

(Listen to the Mandarin Poem made by Jack and Robin • Click on the image above)

LFSF : Friday FEB 12 will be the Chinese New Year. We heard you have plans to celebrate this moment with your students. How are you going to make this possible, given the current health restrictions?

Christelle: Naturally, spatial distancing and health restrictions no longer allow me to organize trips, like the ones I led for the past two years. But everyone is adapting. The meetings with the Museum of Asian Art have been maintained and will take place during the week of March 15, live and via Zoom, with a lecturer from the Museum, who, depending on the students level, will talk about the Chinese New Year, Ancient China or Chinese Philosophy, while introducing art pieces from the Museum and telling anecdotes. Even if happening remotely, the conversation will still be interactive. Venturing “outside” of the classroom remains possible, even if it needs to happen through the screen. In fact, digital tools bring a new range of opportunities, such as pretending that our remote learners are somewhere in China, or being able to invite a Chinese student to participate in the classroom via zoom, when it would have been much more difficult to do on campus. Opening up to the outside world seems easy to implement and this is a nice plus in the current circumstances.

(Above, the screenshot of Madarin Students and Christelle, celebrating the Chinese New Year over Zoom and wishing the best to all LFSF students and Faculty staff)

LFSF: Like many sectors, education has been and continues to be affected by the pandemic. How has this been affecting you at your level, and what lessons have you learned so far?

Christelle: During this pandemic, students' motivation, their ability to persevere and be consistent in their work are all greatly challenged. Being fully present to help and support them becomes more important. Group projects - provided they meet the safety protocols - are encouraged to empower them in their learning. They allow for greater exchanges, mutual support and encouragement, and foster a self determination that remains key.

LFSF: Thank you Christelle for your time! Is there a question you would like us to ask you?

Christelle: 身体健康,万事如意 !  (To your health, may 10000 of your wishes be realized) Here’s to future projects!


#HowWeGotThis is our series of testimonials showing how our teams and community are pioneering, reinventing themselves and imagine new ways to operate in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic.



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