Séminaire « Enseigner le chinois »

Reading China through newspapers : a contextual comprehension and pedagogical practice

Wang Hailong, Columbia university, New York

In the last two decades, China has developed very rapidly. In order to have a better understanding of modern China, students need to read and analyze news from China. The Chinese newspaper is a major resource in this goal. In my advanced classes, I have found an unusual phenomenon : many advanced level students who have very good language abilities cannot understand a simple news article or daily report in a Chinese newspaper.

One reason for this is that reading a Chinese newspaper is not a simple task. This requires comprehensive knowledge of a cultural context, classical Chinese, folk knowledge, Chinese jargon, technical language, newly-created words, specific expressions, linguistic alertness of prefix/suffix, and even knowledge of Chinese idioms and poems. Chinese newspapers are targeted toward native Chinese readers who live in a specific cultural context and environment. No matter how strong a language background a foreign student has, he/she needs to learn special techniques to use when approaching newspapers. My book is designed to help foreign students decode a Chinese newspaper from its language and cultural-literary context.

Students who take Chinese as a foreign language need a proper Chinese newspaper comprehension textbook. Currently, there are few such books on the market in the West, and although there are a few books on this topic in China, they are designed for students who study in China and use a different approach and pedagogy. Moreover, students who live in China and foreign students who live in the West face different problems when they read Chinese newspapers. My book focuses on the students who may not have the opportunity to live in Chinese society but still need to read Chinese newspapers to fulfill their professional or academic demands. I believe publishing this text will help meet these needs of foreign students and the market in the world.

Chinese newspaper comprehension

More and more people learning Chinese as a foreign language tend to receive an academic foundation but lack the practical means of everyday reading and writing. Why is a student able to read Chinese literature but has difficulty reading a Chinese newspaper ? These are all skills that are easily learned, but Chinese newspaper comprehension is a special field, so students need to be trained to approach this subject competently. Chinese newspaper writing embodies different writing techniques, such as a highly stylized way of expression that correlates with a standardized format or custom, and formatted expressions. Some social contextual issues and social-linguistic issues expressed are beyond the language skills needed to understand the concepts, but we still can decode the meaning through our training.

Why is it important for students to be able to comprehend Chinese newspapers ? Because China's recent changes in its economic, political, and social agendas and its role in the WTO, as well as increased communication with the rest of the world will only make reading a Chinese newspaper more important in understanding Chinese issues. Chinese is the second most widely spoken language after English. In tomorrow's workplace, it will be extremely important for those participating in China's market to be able to read news from a Chinese point of view.

Fundamental way of understanding a Chinese newspaper

Unlike the other readers or Chinese newspaper collection books, my textbook will introduce the history of Chinese newspapers as well as its general content, characteristics and genres. I will interpret and analyze important aspects, such as how to read headlines, decode meaning, and compare studies in different area fields. In order to display different elements of Chinese newspapers, I have selected articles and samples with various styles from Mainland China, Hong-Kong, Taiwan, and overseas Chinese communities. I have tried to choose the themes that are up-to-date, meaningful, inspiring, sophisticated and varied in tone. In Book One, I have concentrated on the topics of formatting and on the content of a Chinese newspaper, the typical Chinese media expressions, categories of Chinese journalism, with news articles, and have given my students access to the real Chinese news world.

In the six themes of the book, I have covered different political and economic fields and almost all the aspects of the modern Chinese life, including the Communist Party reform policies, recent Chinese women's issues, the reform of Chinese prisons, Chinese-foreign trade wars, health care and childcare, the social problems China faces today, Chinese educational and medical issues, and the Chinese approach to the international news, etc. I have searched data and materials from the newspapers internationally and put them into a new scope and frame, in order to represent the "real" Chinese newspaper expressions and compare the different styles in the different Chinese social-cultural environments. I believe that this is the first textbook of the field that has applied this kind of wide angle and covered so many stimulating and controversial topics.

Practical design and pedagogical points

  • Warming up to the topic : In each text, we have warming up pre-reading activities to give students a general idea or context for the reading. Typically, students can approach the meaning of the article through headlines decoding, visual images, or key-word scanning.
  • Genre and style analysis : In order to help students become familiar with a Chinese journalist way of writing and understand the basic concept of style, I designed this section. I usually introduce and analyze the writing method of the article, and enlarge the scope of the article, linking related topics the students learn to their learned knowledge.
  • Intensive reading : In our book, we designed three kinds of readings. The purpose of the intensive reading is to train students to read with understanding and enjoyment by practicing the skills of headlines decoding and prediction ; comprehension of the general ideas ; catching the details and specific information, and inference.
  • Extensive reading : This section teaches students to learn how to grasp and interpret the general meaning and how to get used to tolerating reading, and learning how to read without knowing every single word. Through the skills of "reading for main ideas, " "reading for details"and "reading between the lines", student will extend their vocabulary, learn grammatical knowledge and work with words and expressions selected to help them with comprehension.
  • Speedy reading : Speed reading is designed for practical reasons. We read newspapers in order to gain knowledge or to search for information, but we do not need to read carefully and thoroughly, line by line. We sometimes need to scan and skim a newspaper to get general information. We have selected some interesting articles and teaching materials, and created some specific exercise to fulfill this task.
  • Chinese newspaper expression patterns and grammatical explanations : Unlike other Chinese writing styles, Chinese newspaper writing has some specific expression patterns and formatted usage. Learning this kind of technique is very helpful for foreign students who want a magic tool and to be able to jump to a high level. We have a very concise and easy-to-understand interpretation in this section.
  • A brief dictionary and idiomatic expressions : News is generally made up of truly new issues, so some definitions or terminology in a newspaper cannot be found in any tool books or reference books. That may disappoint students who read Chinese newspapers. For them, I have provided a brief dictionary and a section of idiomatic expressions. I have also disclosed the way Chinese native speakers might deal with the situation in order to give them a "key" to solve this kind of problem in the future.
  • Discussion, re-organizing information and rewriting : In each section, I have designed a discussion section. In these exercises, students can explore, review, and practice the language from their readings. Using a thematic context, students can focus on language : pronunciation, word forms, prefixes and suffixes, word domains, idiomatic expressions, and analogies. Besides discussion, I have also designed writing exercises, such as re-organizing information to re-pattern the news writing and learn the skill of writing and re-writing news in Chinese. To learn how to read at the advanced level, readers ought to know how to write, because after all, reading and writing are the two sides of a same coin.

Actes du séminaire national - Enseigner le chinois 26-27 mars 2004

Mis à jour le 15 avril 2011
Partager cet article
fermer suivant précédent