Celebrated Professor Teaches Mandarin Through Song Mandarin Chinese is a notoriously difficult language for nonnative speakers to grasp – or even pronounce. Hong Zhang believes the best way for Chinese language learners to tackle that problem is to sing their way through it. Zhang, a tenured professor at Binghamton University in New York, is a preeminent authority on learning Chinese through traditional folk songs. She conducted her first South Florida workshop this year, which was hosted by Miami Dade College’s Confucius Institute along with the Miami Chinese Chorus and the Florida chapter of the Chinese Language Teacher Association. “Professor Zhang uses this unique teaching approach to make Chinese language learning highly engaging, interactive and enjoyable,” said Dr. Jim Yu, the director of MDC’s Confucius Institute.“Students learn basic singing techniques including posture, breathing, relaxation and voice projection.” Spoken Chinese is a tonal language that requires precise pronunciation. Using an incorrect tone – there are four spoken tones – in a word or sentence can result in a completely different meaning than what was intended. Zhang’s approach to teaching language through song is innovative because it allows learners to recognize and reproduce various pitches, improves the accuracy of spoken vowel sounds and forces learners to open their mouths widely when speaking, a habit that is difficult to form for many Chinese language beginners. Mandarin Chinese is the world’s most-spoken language, with almost 1 billion native speakers. The Defense Language Institute’s Foreign Language Center, which ranks languages based on learning difficulty for English speakers, lists Chinese as a Category Four language. Proficiency requires an estimated 88 weeks of training, compared to 24 weeks for Category One languages such as Spanish, French and Italian.
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