To those who know her, Mandarin teacher Na Fan needs no introduction. She's pretty famous in our corridors and among our families for not only being a multi-talented role model for our students (have you seen her work in fashion?!), but also an astounding educator who has played an integral role in establishing our booming Mandarin program. After acting as our sole Mandarin teacher, she was joined by the stellar Kafele Kossally, Alex Chen, Ran Xu and the list keeps growing.
It is always a pleasure to sit and catch up with Na. Admittedly, my favorite way to spend time with her is by hanging out in the back of her class, soaking up the language myself (the answer is "yes," to all of our BASIS Independent Brooklyn families wondering: our students are not the only ones who sing songs in Mandarin in and out of school). Our Mandarin teachers' uncanny ability to get every student excited about Mandarin leaves us looking forward to a bright future (and present, for that matter) as a school known for an outstanding program.
Keep reading for Na's perspective on our language program, what makes it so successful in promoting fluency, and thoughts on the highly anticipated inaugural year of our summer program.
AH: Let's go back to the beginning. How did you find us?
NF: I found BASIS Independent Brooklyn through a currently enrolled family. Working as the student's tutor, I helped her become very fluent in Chinese in 6 months; her mom was impressed by my approach. When she was looking for the best school for her daughter, she referred me to BASIS Independent. I was just finishing my fashion design degree from Parsons actually, but I wanted to teach at a school given my years of experience as teacher. As a close friend I trusted her judgment with schooling, so I investigated.
When I did my research I was very intrigued so I pursued an interview. The leadership I met with thought that in particular bringing my methodologies to the school would help build the school up from the first day.
AH: Tell me a little bit about your methodologies? Why are they so unique?
NF: I use a new, yet very simple approach to teaching languages. Many teachers have been using images and flashcards for a while. We all know that using images has a great impact in language teaching but it sort of stops at the vocabulary level. The way I teach, images are placed side by side to help kids (and adults) interpret the language structure. Images are used to represent every part of speech. With the help of images, we teach the students the target language in the target language instead of encouraging translation from the native the language. Students start speaking long complex sentences at their very first lesson. The images become self-explanatory and they become intuitive learners. Also, in my classroom, music is an important part of learning and uses the same method – the lyrics are all represented by images as well so while students are singing the songs, they also understand the lyrics by looking at the images.
AH: What are the types of benchmarks that are given to students who are just beginning and then throughout their studies in Mandarin? What can parents expect their children to learn in our program?
NF: With only one year learning students become very fluent – and after two years they become highly fluent. Kindergarten is a little different; they learn about 300 vocab which allows them to construct thousands of sentences. Then 1st through 4th they learn about 650 vocabulary words, also opening them to saying thousands of sentences. Starting in 3rd and 4th, they start to recognize characters – about 600 characters. In middle school, they learn about 1,500 vocabulary words and about 600 characters that they can recognize and write characters. I should mention this is what beginners learn in one year.. This is what a student after a few months can achieve:
Editor's Note: for comparison's sake, children usually obtain about 600 vocabulary words in their native language by age 2.5.
AH: Do you have any favorite stories?
NF: Just today…the third graders and I were talking about clothing in class and one of my students was showing off his basketball shoes from one team and another student was showing his shoes from another team, so they started arguing in Chinese about whose team was better! These are the types of arguments we don’t like to stop in our class! Parent feedback is just so great, which I love. We hear that kids love doing Chinese homework and always do Mandarin homework first. When there are siblings they use Chinese with each other as their secret language.
Enjoy some of our younger students sharing a dialogue in class:
AH: Let's switch gears to summer. What can we expect from the summer program in its first year?
NF: I am helping develop the program and will be supporting the teachers who will be leading the program this summer. The program is going to be so culturally enriching with lots of hands-on activities as well as deeply academic in terms of students walking away with concrete language acquisition. There will be role playing, such as a pretend super market visits, a restaurant, and a variety of other situations. We want them to be able to use the language in different real life situations. There will also be a lot of cultural aspects such as Chinese calligraphy, painting, watching, and analyzing Chinese movies.
AH: Why should students spend their summer in our Mandarin Immersion Program?
NF: This fully immersed program is a great extension of what they are learning in the school year reinforced and applied in real life contexts. For example, throughout the year they have been learning about Journey to the West, the most popular literature in China for children and adults. They will be taking a field trip to the Children's Museum of Manhattan to explore the Monkey King story (a fun story part of the series), as well as visiting different landmarks in Chinatown. Not to mention, ordering and sampling different Chinese foods (only in Chinese!). We will also put on a short Chinese play at the end of the session.
And finally, a message from some of our Mandarin students: