The idea of doing something meaningful with my students this semester originated partially from a request email from Christy Parrish, the program manager of the Kidzu Children’s Museum in Chapel Hill. Before fall semester started, she asked for student translators to serve the large and active local Chinese/Mandarin-speaking community, with the possible collaboration of forming lasting partnerships that would create strong experiential opportunities for UNC students.
Kidzu’s need for translating a series of children’s books (mostly from Oxford Owl) fits well with the standards of project-based language learning (PBLL), an approach intended to engage language learners with real-world issues, meaningful target language use, and encourage cooperative learning.
This translation work is at the right level for my Chinese students as well, because the language in these children’s books is in simple or connected sentences that students could practice for the whole semester. With this in mind, I decided to have this translating opportunity as the final project for my Chinese 305 students.
The students seemed excited about the project, not to mention motivated, as it was focused on hands-on learning experiences or processes involving challenging and complex work. Students started information-gathering about writers, refreshing grammar/vocabulary. Then they had meet-ups with a Chinese speaker for scaffolding, instructor feedback for revisions, and finally told stories of the translated books to classmates and audiences from the Chinese community. Moving away from rote learning and memorization, incorporating students actively using language skills, and reaching out to a wider audience beyond the instructional setting is essential to learning a foreign language.