Learning a foreign language with a little help from the local community

Transformative Learning | Strategy 13: Practical Learning
Theme: Collaboration

Learning a foreign language is a great way to discover a different way to think, view and describe the world around us. But what is the point of studying if you cannot verbally interact with native speakers to know about their ways of thinking and doing, apart from what they eat or what holidays they celebrate?

Transforming and enriching student learning experiences via engagement in authentic settings is a UBC priority through practical learning. In this context, the Department of Asian Studies decided to look into its community and beyond to include more interactions with native Mandarin speakers in its undergraduate programs — from local UBC and Vancouver communities, as well as from Mainland China and Taiwan. The goal: to bridge UBC, local and international communities’ efforts to help its 1,400 students learn the language differently.

When Dr. Hsiang-Ning Sunnie Wang, Associate Professor of Teaching at UBC’s Department of Asian Studies joined the program, she quickly saw the potential for her Chinese language courses. “After I came to UBC, I realized that both UBC and the Vancouver area are very unique because we can find abundant Chinese culture, resources and expertise here. That made me wonder, how can we bring in more of these local resources into the program?”

Dr. Wang, along with other instructors from the Department of Asian Studies, designed a project that looked to improve student language confidence and performance, and to enhance their sense of community identity to make a stronger language program. By making students, especially undergraduates, part of these local communities, this practical learning project could provide a blueprint for how languages can be taught at UBC and beyond.

In 2019, the project received a three-year grant from the Teaching and Learning Enhancement Fund (TLEF). This support allowed Dr. Wang’s team to build a course model that shifted away from classroom-based teaching and learning, to community-based language learning (CBLL) and communication-focused pedagogy. “We realized that this could be an opportunity for Mandarin learners, the Department of Asian Studies and the local community to create a mutually beneficial situation that enriches our students’ learning experience.”

Please visit the CTLT website to read the full story.

Through Strategy 13: Practical Learning, UBC is committed to working with external partners and alumni to increase experiential learning for our students – ‘learning by doing’ across academic programs, and to enhance career services.