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DP Chinese: Learning Language in the Cultural Context

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Learning a new language can be a difficult undertaking. However, depending how a learner approaches the matter, it can be even easier and more interesting. Please read on for MYP and DP Chinese Language & Literature Olivia Chen's perspective on this topic.

“The mechanic that would perfect his work must first sharpen his tools.”

This quote from the Analects by Confucius addresses the confusion, enquiry, and misunderstanding towards the Inquiry-based Learning (IBL) approach advocated by the International Baccalaureate (IB) Curriculum. As far as we know, half a century ago, the IBL approach was introduced and developed as a new pedagogy contrary to the traditional methodologies, namely, rote memorization and spoon-feeding teaching. To date, the IBL approach, under the IB framework, having been continuously sharpened over the last five decades, is still vibrant with vigor and vitality, which, as a weapon of great capacity, has inspired and challenged students to be self-motivated and open-minded learners who are adept at thinking and reflecting.


“What do you see?”

“It’s not just cheating on exams.”

This seems like a conversation heard in DP Chinese class, specifically a warm-up session for an ordinary Language and Literature class. Perhaps in the Language and Translation unit in Learning Language in Cultural Context – Part 1 of LL. For this lesson, students are given a picture and briefed about various news scenarios. They are then given the task of brainstorming to create their own issues that are universal and conventional. Can you guess what issues they might come up with?


Recently, a professor from Australian State University projected sentences on the screen in English and Chinese, which state, “I will not tolerate students who cheat.” Among the students in the class, there are many from Australia and other countries.


Can the translation be any clearer?

What does this translation convey? Is there anything missing?

How much will readers be affected by this translation?

How much does the translation rely on culture and context?


Plenty of inquiry-based issues have already been raised, selected, and refined by the students themselves. In fact, their skills and capabilities, which are not innate, have been developed through continuous and cumulative learning under the IB framework and guidance from teachers. It is facile for them to dig and reflect deeper upon the core idea of the topic – How Language Creates Meaning.


Factual or Reasonable Evidence…We Hunt for These!

As chairs are moved, teenagers aged 17 and 18 hunt for their partners possessing the same interests to study and inquire issues, as well as further work in individual groups. They search for text, linguistic data, and other resources, as well as supplement their proof and evidence pool in order to resolve the issues chosen. One of the critical elements of the course is the extensive definition of “text,” namely, anything that can be regarded as such, including, but not limited to, videos, ads, posters, logos, the theory of translation, and more. All groups are well-organized and look for what is necessary while, mostly importantly, having fun doing so. Therefore, a Chinese class full of passion and excitement goes by and ends with great results.


Please Justify Yourself!

“What I am investigating is what is missing from translation. I wish to demonstrate this problem by utilizing an example of the translation of four China’s classic works. Therefore, I want people to sense what is disappearing from the original language and culture.”

“I have been continuously studying the relation between the translation and readers. I will compare the different translated names of various books and movies when they are imported to Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Mainland China. “

When describing the cases, students can be found cherishing their “evidence”; When they explain further about their illustrations, it becomes pure joy to hear their personalized thinking and critical interpreting because surprises arise among the learners who are deeply absorbed in exploration and inquiry.


Make fact become convention; make a case become universal; and make “explanation” become “knowledge.”

In the past, what I saw were not only the jokes made from poor translations, but the culture of the source/original meaning that is supposed to be actually conveyed.

In the past, what I saw were not only the misunderstandings and conflicts when language transferring/translating, but the meaning of the original language that is aimed to be communicated.

In the past, I think language was the tool of humans. Therefore, I now appreciate that it has shaped social recognition.

All these quotes and answers made by the students can be appropriately assisted and guided by teachers. Under these circumstances, facts can be rendered into theories, reality into abstract, and case into concept.

I would like to congratulate the students for embracing “knowledge” itself, as well as for learning new knowledge they discover by themselves.


Not “Translation and Language” Literally.

Nevertheless, discovery can usually bring about subversion or advancement.

The incident mentioned at the top at Australian State University – “Translation-Gate,” will inevitably be raised and discussed by students.

What we sight is perhaps the tip of the iceberg. When context is disclosed, the facts behind the Translation-Gate incident, as the story and reason that the professor added the Chinese translation emerges, show that it is not keenly about “translation and language.”

Is translation carrying the stereotype of a culture, either positive or negative?

Absolutely yes, translation is built on culture, how can it be isolated?

On the other side of the spectrum, translation can wholly be another expression of the language, which is a “deciphering/decoding” tool that people can control and manipulate. We can further discuss the knowledge students discovered.

Finally, people are willing to jump out of the box, making consensus at one point. This means “context” is the big boss that determines linguistic expression and meaning. Whereas, some students may suggest changing their perspective, viewing the incident as only a piece of news. When a teacher first views it, have you been misled by the hot search words, for instance, “cheating” and “discriminating China?”

Such bias and attributes are what this news article embodies.

Students and teachers will happily tell you, you are moving onwards into the next study unit – language and mass communication. You have accomplished much through discovery, exploration, elaboration, proofing, and sublimation. In this way, this learning approach can provide teachers and students with tremendous interests and excitement.

Teachers are ferrymen while students are the people that are keen in exploring and discovering the charming scenes on the other side of the ocean.


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