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Comparing Face-to-face and Online Teaching of Written and Spoken Chinese to Adult Learners: An Edinburgh-Sheffield Case Study

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Lucy Xia Zhao

University of Sheffield, United Kingdom


Brittany Blankinship

University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom


 Zhipeng Duan

Beijing Language and Culture University, China 


Huihui Huang

University of Sheffield, United Kingdom


Jiaxin Sun

University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom


Thomas H Bak

University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom




We report a study comparing teaching written and spoken Chinese separately to adult learners without prior knowledge of Chinese in the traditional classroom setting and in the online format. The best way of introducing Chinese characters remains one of the major challenges in teaching Chinese as a foreign language: different methods have been used in practice and more empirical evidence is needed to identify their advantages and limitations. In a crossover design, we compared groups which received either four-week tuition in Chinese characters only (without teaching the sound or pinyin spelling) or the same period of tuition in spoken Chinese (without any writing, neither characters nor pinyin). After a two-week break, the groups were swapped, such that the writing class received tuition in spoken Chinese and vice versa. The first four-week block was delivered in the traditional classroom format, while the remaining tuition took place online, due to the Covid-19-related lockdown. The idea of teaching spoken and written Chinese entirely separately, although initially unfamiliar to teachers, proved to be feasible. The transition to online teaching worked well and brought not only challenges, but also new opportunities and advantages, particularly in the teaching of characters. Students’ experience of both parts of course (written and spoken) was overwhelmingly positive. However, while students who experienced classroom teaching first and then switched to online delivery perceived the online format as an unavoidable replacement, those who started the course online embraced it enthusiastically, accepting it as “the new normal” and focusing on its opportunities.   



Chinese as a foreign language, written Chinese, Chinese characters, crossover design, online teaching and learning experience