Shuyu Zhang

School of Culture, History and Language

ANU College of Asia and the Pacific


I am currently convening a Cantonese course at the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific. What underlies my teaching is the philosophy that language carries more power than words themselves and thus, language teaching should be carried out with a vision. For me, this vision is to teach language for communication.

I think language learning is highly driven by the communicative intent of students. Therefore, I assign utmost emphasis to speaking with a communicative purpose, that is, to encourage students to understand the language beyond its surface form and to convey meanings of relevance. I envisage that when students complete a semester of Cantonese learning, they can communicate in the language appropriately, more so than correctly. This requires more than remembering a glossary. Rather, students need to be taught to situate their language in a context. So instead of having student repeating a drill with the word “exuberant”, a better approach may be to talk to them about their favourite leisure activity. They are also taught to adjust their way of speaking, when talking to friends and to teachers, in street markets and in classrooms. It gives me great satisfaction to see students articulate themselves and make perfect sense without constantly monitoring themselves being grammatically “correct”.

What is also characteristic to language teaching at a university is the versatility and rigour in the research and design of teaching activities that reflect the diversity of the student cohort. I am particularly in favour of technology-enhanced learning. I created electronic slides for every module, including segments of texts pre-recorded by me that students can listen to at their own pace. This will also allow them to come to the lectures more ready and confident to use the language. I also developed five online quizzes on Wattle, each containing highlighted grammar points in every fortnight’s lectures. Students commence this course with various level of prior knowledge on Cantonese. Thus, I convey to the students that these quizzes are for the purpose of learning instead of assessment, and that they are allowed multiple attempts should they require more time and revision of course content.

My teaching practice benefited immensely from participating in the Foundations of University Teaching and Learning course, which I consider to be one of my personal highlights of this year career-wise. The course offered an invaluable opportunity for me to reflect on my teaching practice and to be enlightened by the teaching approaches of distinguished educators.


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