The Harbour School

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Learning Mandarin through authentic experiences

  • Middle School
  • Primary
Mersara Wu & Ivy Liu, Mandarin Teachers

The Mandarin programme at THS aims to help students acquire language skills and knowledge, while reinforcing learning objectives, fostering self-learning and cooperation abilities, and developing effective learning strategies and appropriate use of languages in a multicultural community. 

Classes are delivered through both teacher-directed, collaborative learning opportunities and hands on learning. Students apply their learning through engaging and fun activities such as games, role plays, interviewing people in the community and class discussions.

During the run up to Chinese festivals including Chinese New Year and the mid-Autumn festival, students are taught the significance of these celebrations for the Chinese people and how it’s celebrated, often these lessons are taught via hands-on arts and craft or cooking classes. 

The curriculum is organised around listening, speaking, reading and writing, offering authentic opportunities and interdisciplinary links with units of learning. The school broadly follows the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) standards in teaching Chinese (Mandarin). Communities, comparisons, communication, cultures, and connections (5Cs) are emphasized in ACTFL standards. Through learning and speaking languages, students will respect other cultures and also, grow awareness of their own, hence cultivating the habit of a lifelong learner.

Our student body is diverse and are composed of more than 30 cultural and linguistic backgrounds. For some students, Mandarin is a new language (though not necessarily their second language), while for others, Mandarin is their native or near-native language. We also have students who speak a related Chinese dialect and might have received bilingual education prior to joining the school. 

To accommodate our huge variety of learners, we broadly differentiate students into two categories - non-native or near-native students, where non-native students depending on their placement levels are further sorted into beginner or intermediate classes while near-native students are in the advanced class. All streams represent and honor THS’s position of offering Mandarin as an additional language, and not on a bilingual platform. Based on the different needs of each stream, separate sets of standards, benchmarks, and assessments are used. There is a pathway to taking Advanced Placement (AP) Mandarin for high school students in the advanced class.  

New students to the school are placed based on an assessment. Once in the Mandarin streams, placement adjustment is based on student interest and needs, formative assessments, and teacher recommendation.

Spoken language competency is the foundation of literacy, hence students in THS starts with 90 percent of listening and dialogue in Mandarin classes in the early years. Meanwhile, we introduce pictographic and ideographic characters starting from an early age. Radicals and frequently used Chinese characters are taught gradually from Grade 1 onwards.

By integrating hands-on activities, group discussion, and presentation in class, students are able to effectively increase their proficiency and understanding of Mandarin language, culture, and traditions. We also regularly organize various cultural activities, such as calligraphy workshops, tasting different Chinese dishes, and tea parties to make our classes interactive, fun, and relevant to our students.


G5/6 students made tang yuan or glutinous rice balls, to celebrate Chinese New Year. Tang Yuan is made for festive occasions in China. Students have fun making this traditional dish, learning its significance of “togetherness” and how family is important in Chinese culture. 


Middle school students held a tea party to consolidate the learning of the unit about Chinese tea culture. 

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