Zhilbin Tian Talks About Teaching A Foreign Language

Zhilbin Tian Talks About Teaching A Foreign Language

Finigan Robbins

Zhilbin Tian is beginning a career at Westford Academy and is ready to teach Mandarin in a new place.

Q: Have you been a foreign language teacher for a long time?

A:  Yeah, when I was in China I was an English teacher in high school. Then, I taught middle school students Chinese in a Charter school when I was in Indiana. I also taught high school kids Chinese. In the past three years, I have taught Chinese 1,2, 3, and AP Chinese. I just moved here to Massachusetts from Indiana this past summer. 

Q: Out of the languages that you have taught, have you a preferred one over the other?

A: I love teaching both Chinese and English.

Q: How do you make learning accessible and efficient for students?

A: [I] use examples, repetition, [and] body language, especially for Chinese students.

Q: In your time of teaching, which grade do you believe was the most eager to learn?

A: This is a tough question. Seventh is the toughest grade to teach. They are anxious to learn. But, I think, overall, students, if they are in my classroom, they are all eager to learn. Probably because the freshmen and sophomores, they are more curious about the language […]. but the juniors and the seniors, they know what’s going on, what the daily routine is, and how I teach Chinese so they already know everything. 

Q:  If you could teach a different language, what would it be or would it stay the same?

A: Spanish. Spanish because all of the people around me, speak Chinese, Spanish, even my daughters. They started from first grade until high school. My younger daughter downloaded Duolingo […]. I would definitely considering learning and teaching Spanish.

Q: How long do you think it takes to become fluent in Mandarin? 

A: It depends on your background. If you are from a Chinese family, it is easier […]. When you’re at home, you also know the culture. It also depends on the student’s learning capability. When I was teaching in middle school, three years, students couldn’t speak fluent Chinese […]. AP Chinese students, most of them, though were from the World Heritage students (foreign exchange students) so it’s a different story. Those students can master the language in a very short time. It really depends on the student, their skills, their resources, and their backgrounds.

Q:  Was teaching your first career choice or was there something else you wanted to do?

A: I wanted to be a writer. I love reading. I would write diaries to record my daily life, some special moments. I had an aunt who was a high school teacher. She inspired me to be a teacher. So that’s why when I was very young, I knew I wanted to be a teacher, so after, I never thought about other careers. It didn’t make sense.

Q: You told me about your interest in writing. if you were to be a writer, what do you think you would write?

A: Poems. Just free writing. I wouldn’t like to write novels or fiction, just recording my daily life.

Q: As a foreign language teacher, do believe you are successful in your teaching?

A: For me, I inspire my students to learn Chinese or fall in love with learning the Chinese language. It’s not always about the grade. Some people define success as good as an A, but for me, it would be successful if I saw the energies and inspirations coming from students. Learning a foreign language is not just three years or four years, it’s a lifelong term. If there is one student in my classroom who will continue to learn the Chinese language, that’s definitely a success. It’s about exploration and motivation.