Ms. CHU Hsiao-mi (Chu laoshi)
Head, Academic Activities Division (AAD)
Editor's note: CLC celebrated her 50th anniversary in 2013 and there was a photo-taking session during the alumni homecoming dinner. Students from different generations and all corners of the land flocked to the front of Chu laoshi. They spoke in Putonghua, "Thank you Chu laoshi", "Chu laoshi, how are you?", "Chu laoshi, it's a long time not seeing you!" The editor on the same table with Chu laoshi was touched by this scene and spared her seat at once for the students to picture with their beloved teacher. This issue of PEOPLE featured Chu laoshi, a veteran teacher who have been serving CUHK for over 30 years.
You had been the head of all the divisions in the Centre except the Cantonese programme division. Can you tell us in brief about your background? Which position do you like best?
I came to Hong Kong from Taiwan in late 1982 after getting married. I joined CUHK-CLC in 1984. Before that, I served as a part-time instructor in the Language Centre of HKU. In CLC, I had been the head of the Putonghua Programme Division, the University Programme Division and the Academic Activities Division1. I gained perspectives from different work capacities and could have a better understanding about the difficulties in each position. Nevertheless, teaching is still the position I like best.
From English education to Teaching Chinese as a Foreign/Second Language
I studied linguistics and English education as my first degree because I was simply not interested at all in Commerce and Computer Studies, the hot subjects popular among Arts students in my days. I have never imagined that it had kindled my interest in TCFL. After coming to HK, I embarked on my career pursuit in TCFL by chance. During the course of my teaching practice, I deeply realized that this is an area which worth investing time and effort for research and development.
Did you encounter any significant difference in students and pedagogy throughout your 30 years in CLC?
The change in students' circumstances is obvious. Before, there were many students delegated by their company to study for work purposes. Or otherwise, they had intense interest and curiosity about China and Chinese culture. Most of them might had had come without prior knowledge in Chinese language. CLC provided intensive programmes and the students usually studied for one to two years. In the 80's, the pedagogy adopted the direction of "drill more speak less". Teachers from a rotational team took turns to lead the drill progressively and quantity of practices was not a concern. It was conducive to elementary and intermediate students in getting a good grasp of basic knowledge and to nurture the ability to use Chinese language for communication in specific contexts. Remarkable outcomes had been observed.
And nowadays, students who came to learn Chinese know Chinese to a certain extent, and their purpose of learning varied: some were attracted by the charming city of Hong Kong; some wanted to pass exams and get award certificates to enhance competitiveness and facilitate job search. Besides, there are multiplying numbers of international students (exchange students and undergraduates) taking Chinese electives in CUHK. As a result, the number of people studying non-intensive short courses increased drastically. The pedagogy certainly has to accommodate to the different course arrangement and gear to the diverse need of students. Furthermore, the rapid development in info-technology has provided more alternatives to teaching in class and language learning.
Share some unforgettable students and alumni stories.
The 50th anniversary gathering was undoubtedly an emotional moment. The fortune of a language teacher is that we are not simply imparting knowledge. We try hard from the very first day to help students to communicate in their target language. So, it is relatively easier for us to build good relationship with students. There are so many unforgettable stories to recall. For example, a student sent in family greeting card every year and shared with me the stages of development of her child; several students sent me postcard to report excitedly that they used Chinese language in their travel; some students not connected for ages, greeted me by email all of a sudden and told me that they returned to Asia again due to job posting. In 2009, I received a photo sent by a student from Czech Republic. On the photo, it was the writing on a sandlot in big Chinese words "Happy new year to Chu laoshi". This perhaps is the most unforgettable greeting card I have ever received.
I could also remember a Japanese lady who learned Chinese language in CLC during early 80s. She came to CLC during her holiday some years ago to revisit the teachers. Very soon she found out that the teachers she knew had already retired. I saw her recalling with nostalgia the every little thing in the small building of CLC: the narrow corridor, the traditional bulletin board, the row of hooks which was used to hang the attendance record... Although we did not know each other, I invited her to join me for a chat in a small and outdated office cum classroom. With our collective memories of the 80s, we chatted like old friends. Apart from reminisced about the lesson time "good old days", she also told me that she had blended her experience in CLC in her creative work, a fiction called "The Wishing Tree": the old-fashioned train, people from different parts of the world, the city away from the hustle and bustle... It seems that the study in CLC has given her a very romantic experience.
There are already many different kinds of Chinese as a Foreign/ Second Language (CSL) textbooks in the market. How come the AAD still compile new textbooks for CLC?
It is true that there are already many teaching materials for Chinese as a Foreign/ Second language learners. Some were used by the Centre. Some were newly published in places like mainland China and North America. Some materials are not bad indeed. Nevertheless, we still want a set of teaching materials which is in alignment with the language proficiency oriented principle of the Centre. As what Dr. Weiping WU, the director of the Centre aspired and proposed, this set of materials should include the essential structures of discourse and the typical context models which work for the structures. This is indeed an arduous mission. But I believe that, along with the continuous development on the research in the realm of Teaching Chinese as a Foreign/ Second Language, coupled with the concerted effort of the CLC teachers, a customized set of teaching materials for our own curriculum will appear in the future.
What do you do in your spare time?
I like swimming, ball games, movie, listening to music and novel reading.
Special tasks before retirement
I hope to continuously optimize the complete set of teaching materials and any supplementary learning resources. This is in fact an endless assignment which will only stop on the day of my retirement.
Words of advice to staff and students
To teachers, all I want to say is to cherish the teaching career in the Centre. It is because here you can get in touch with different course types and students. There is also a band of good colleagues who are glad to share. As long as you teach with your heart, you will advance your teaching skill quickly. To students, Chinese is similar to other foreign languages. As long as you embrace it with interest and patience, you can surely learn Chinese language well.
1 The Academic Activities Division (short form "AAD") is a strategic structure in the Centre. Concurrently served by various veteran teachers, AAD works on 4 scopes namely teaching materials project, teacher training project, language assessment project and curriculum review project.