Teaching Finns to speak – Chinese

It’s difficult to get students to talk, even though Chinese pronunciation and grammar are easy for Finns. Even so, teacher Haixia Wang is happy with her hardworking students, and the students appreciate the Chinese language instruction available at the Confucius Institute.

Haixia Wang, international teacher of the year, is a lecturer in the Chinese language at the Confucius Institute and has been teaching at the University of Helsinki for two years. Her first position as a teacher of Chinese was at a school in Arkansas, in the US. After American teenagers, teaching Finnish university students is a different experience.

“At first I was surprised when I couldn’t get the Finnish students to talk during class. I’d ask them a question and they’d just blush. I soon understood that that’s just what Finns are like, a little shy to speak. I do believe, however, that my own example can make a big difference. If I do something silly during a lesson, others will join in."

In her teaching, Wang employs many different web-based applications, and she has also developed games to help students practice their conversational skills – an area where Finnish students need a little extra support.

Wang praises Finnish students for their diligence.

 “They are probably the second most hardworking students in the world, after the Chinese of course. Finns are particularly interested in the characters. Many consider them art and really apply themselves to studying them,” she says.

Haixia Wang has one wish: she would like the University to have new kinds of teaching facilities.

“I would like to try action-based teaching, but the current facilities don't allow it. The tables and chairs are in the way. I would like a classroom with no seats, where students could participate and be active, cook together for example. Learning would happen naturally alongside the activities.”

An award and a contract extension

The award for international teacher of the year was a complete surprise to Haixia Wang.

 “The award is a great honour, but I did not expect it at all. The leadership at the Confucius Institute have also been delighted of course.  Our leadership is very supportive of us teachers and gives us fairly free rein. The award is one of the reasons I decided to extend my contract for one more year.”

Haixia Wang enjoys both her work and living in Finland. She has become a fan of rye bread, sour milk and Finnish nature.

 “I never really experienced nature until I came to Finland. It’s not possible in China. You have something here that’s just incredible: the forest. During the weekends I like to go to the forest with my friends. I’ve also tried cross-country skiing and ice swimming."

An important language for the future

Aino Ropponen and Ville Vuorensola are studying Chinese at the Confucius Institute. They are both Master’s students, Aino in planning geography and Ville in history. Both had their interest in studying Chinese piqued by a visit to China. Aino visited Shanghai before coming to the University, and Ville went on an exchange to Hong Kong. Aino later also did a student exchange period in China.

"The most difficult things to learn about Chinese are tone and of course the system of writing. But the grammar is easy," says Aino Ropponen.

“Pronunciation is also easy for Finns. The grammar becomes more difficult in more advanced stages," points out Ville Vuorensola.

However, technology has come to aid students of Chinese, particularly in reading comprehension. It’s no longer necessary to learn the characters by heart, when students can simply draw an unfamiliar character on a touchscreen and instantly find out its significance and Western transliteration.

Aino Ropponen is currently working on her Master’s thesis, which was commissioned by a company with ties to China.

 “I think I got the commission thanks to my Chinese skills, even though my thesis is not directly linked to China.”

Vuorensola’s Chinese skills have also helped him in his other studies – he is even writing his Master’s thesis on EU-China relations. He has also had a summer job in China, and he hopes to land a traineeship in Beijing.

“Studying Chinese can be frustrating sometimes, but I've never regretted doing it. And it is an important language for the future.”

Confucius Institute

The Confucius Institute at the University of Helsinki is an academic unit with a focus on Chinese language, Chinese culture and research on China.

Confucius Institute organizes courses on Chinese language and culture, as well as the HSK Chinese proficiency test and the Chinese Bridge speech competition. The institute also organizes various cultural events, lectures, conferences and seminars. In addition, the institute takes part in and manages research projects on China and organizes training for Chinese language teachers.