MET:Hybrid Learning in Mandarin as a Second Language in the Post Secondary Institutions of Vancouver

From UBC Wiki

This page was originally authored by Ta-Chi (Margaret) Lee (2014).


Hybrid learning is the teaching of students through the integration of both e-learning and face-to-face learning. The addition of the e-learning aspect has gradually become a growing trend in the education field recently due to the rapid advancement of technology. Ambient Insight has conducted exclusive research and discovered that the annual growth rate of eLearning worldwide is currently estimated to be growing at a 7.6% rate, which is quite rapid. [1]

As face-to-face learning used to be the gold standard of how students should be taught, the entrance of e-learning teaching has complicated the issue in terms of how much we actually need it and just how effective it can be for the teachers and the students compared to traditional style teaching.

Such a question is probably too broad to provide an answer with, which is why this page will be focused primarily on the hybrid learning of Mandarin as a second language in the Universities of the greater Vancouver region. Hopefully, by zooming in on a specific niche, it will provide a more in-depth and clear micro-based analysis of the impacts and issues that hybrid learning brings to the field.

Vancouver's Chinese Population Growth

With the rising power of China, Mandarin has become a language that many students of various ethnicities in North America are very interested in. “China, with its tremendous economic growth and emergence as a cultural and political leader, is integral to this shift. In 2006, at the higher education level, there were 51,582 students learning Chinese, a 52 percent increase over 2002. There's an estimated 200% growth in Chinese language programs in the United States in just four years" [2]

With an estimated 100 million Non-Chinese Mandarin speakers around the world,this number is bound to increase in the near future. Analyzing the chance, there are certain key events that spurred the acceleration of people's interest in Mandarin which are:[3] [4]

*China's economic ascent
*Spotlight during the 2008 Beijing Olympics
*Increased tourism and exposure of China,Taiwan and Hong Kong and their national language Mandarin

In Vancouver, it is almost certain that this growth will not be slowing down anytime soon as the Chinese population has grown three fold since the 1960s as shown in the bar chart above. As recent as 2011, the group of immigrants with Chinese as their mother-tongue which includes Mandarin, Chinese-dialects, and Cantonese consisted of 40% of Greater Vancouver's new immigrants, a sizable proportion. While the correlation between people learning Mandarin and the number of Chinese immigrants may not be statistically significant, it nevertheless will play an impact on non-Chinese people's interest on learning the language. Such a prediction can be clarified by being premised upon more concrete data like the various post-secondary institutions' expansion of their Chinese department, which can be seen happening in schools like UBC, SFU and BCIT among many others.



The first Chinese language that was offered at UBC began in 1957. Since then, the Chinese Department has grown to become one of the most comprehensive programs for Chinese studies in North America offering courses for those who have received an education in a Chinese speaking region and separate ones for those who have had no exposure to Chinese. Each year, there are over 2500 students who enroll in these courses [5]

Currently, UBC has four departments that offer Chinese courses, which are The Centre for Research in Chinese Language and Literacy Education, Departments of Language and Literacy Education, Asian Studies, and Continuing Education. The Centre for Research in Language and Literacy Education, interestingly does not stand on its own. Its students are admitted through the branches of Language and Literacy Education and Department of Asian Studies. Their goal is to have scholars engage in “research activities” that will help further develop the “teaching, testing, curriculum and materials development, teacher education, and innovation in digital technologies for Chinese language and literacy education.” The development in this area of research is supported by Hanban (China's National Office of Chinese Language Council International under the Chinese Ministry of Education) and is very newly established within UBC.

The Department of Asian Studies, out of all other departments, arguably host the most amount and most diverse of Chinese courses as they are for undergraduate students that are most abundant. The courses are varied, yet are clearly organized for the non-heritage and heritage student that have different course goals in mind shown here.

In Continuing Studies, “dynamic classes” of all levels are offered which include translation for business, beginner, intermediate and advanced levels, as well as reading, writing and simultaneous interpretation. The instructors are all “experienced and professionally trained native speakers.” [6]


Beginning in 1993, they started offering Chinese courses which were CHIN 100, CHIN 101, CHIN 200, which were all for non-heritage students and who have not taken any Chinese courses in high school. In the year 1997, when Hong Kong was returned to China, many Cantonese people immigrated to Canada noting the influx of Cantonese students, SFU subsequently designed CHIN 151, 152 specifically for Cantonese students who were interested in learning Mandarin Chinese as evident with the two groups :Heritage Mandarin courses and Intensive Mandarin courses.

The year 2005 marked a huge increase in Mainland Chinese students because their economy started to grow and so SFU began to open up more courses year after year for heritage student. Apart from preserving their original courses for non-heritage students, they added many more courses because of an increased interest from the non-heritage students and they also put even more emphasis on the heritage students by creating both intensive courses and regular courses.

The Chinese language courses have always been supported by SFU’s Language Training Institute and the Linguistic department until their Director, Billie Ng, developed her own website in 2005 which served to vastly improve the way Chinese was taught at SFU. The website aids students in understanding the culture and context of China which is essential in learning a language. Moreover, it provides sites and lessons associated with all aspects of the language and one can easily navigate the site.

It is said that Chinese is one of the hardest languages to learn not only because of the approximate 10,000 unique characters that make up the language, but also because of the tone associated with the separate meanings. For such a difficult language, a hybrid approach to learning is necessary. Students may experience what they encounter in classrooms, outside of school too and this website, similar to a full-time tutor, provides voice clips of character pronunciations. Its convenience, flexibility and portability in helping to review the language, makes it absolutely necessary.


“Since 2005, China has rolled out more than 300 Confucius Institutes in 94 countries in order to help the rest of the world learn a language that is increasingly important but devilishly challenging." [7]

One of the participants in using the materials of this institute happens to be BCIT.

Since the Confucius Institute is quite far in the digital aspect of their courses, along with BCIT, they host an app that can be downloaded with mobile devices called, “Chinese Learning Express.”

Unique from other institutions, with the help of the Confucius Institution, BCIT also offers a standardized Chinese language proficiency test for the placement of students in the certain courses.

Out of all the post-secondary institutions in Canada, BCIT was “awarded the first Confucius Institute in Canada by” Hanban in 2006 and the Confucius Institute aims to promote “cultural exchange, economic and business development, international trade, Chinese language, and commercial cooperation between Canada and China.” [8]

The Chinese government claims that 230,000 people have enrolled so far and they cannot meet the demand. China is sending 5,000 teachers abroad each year and now wants 1,000 institutes to be open by the end of the decade. [9]


As Anderson, T. (2008) mentions, online learning theory needs to help educators decide which of the numerous technological options is best suited for their application. [10] Below is how educators construct their learning environment, including teaching Mandarin as a second language in a hybrid context. A balance between these aspects should hinge on the students’ diverse context, culture and characteristics.

Learner Centred

Is simply the approach to education that always focuses on the interest of the students.

Knowledge Centred

Is the focus mainly on the curriculum itself and how to make it so that the students can benefit the most from the teachers

Assessment Centred

Is the focus of how to assess the curriculum in order to enhance and modify the existing curriculum to help benefit the students the most.

Community Centred

Is the focus of having the community surrounding the curriculum be of assistant to the students as they learn something that they may not be familiar with.

According to Wilson, B (1997), if we follow a good educational theory, it can force us to "look beyond day-to-day contingencies and ensure that our knowledge and practice of online learning is robust, considered and ever expanding," this way students can learn more collaboratively and independently. The same goes to teaching Mandarin as a second language in a hybrid environment. It should not be an exception. [11]

Types of e-Learning Tools Used

Web Browser Tools- Acts as a channel for students to see materials posted by instructors

           For instance: UBC Connect, SFU WebCT, BCIT HSK/YCT etc.

Blogs- Acts as a channel for students to see materials uploaded by other students

           For instance: UBC Blog, Weebly etc.

Emails- Acts as a direct link between students and teachers that is similar to attending an office hour.

           For instance: UBC/SFU/BCIT mail, Gmail, Hotmail etc.

Web Conferencing Tools- Acts like an equivalent of a tutorial. If there were any need for a mock interview or classroom discussion that could not be done in class due to not enough time, this could provide an effective solution.

           For instance: Skype, Tinychat, Facebook etc.

Wikis- Acts as an alternative option for students to find resources outside of classtime.

           For instance: The UBC Wiki, Wikipedia etc.


•Knowledge reinforcement: Mandarin is a difficult language to master and it's likely that the in-class time won't be enough. Hence, teachers can also add supplemental materials online to help students reinforce what they have learned in class, enabling both sides to be more efficient.
•Time Efficiency: It allows students to learn online even when they are not geographically located around the university as the material can be accessed anywhere and at anytime by the students. Teachers can also easily convey additional materials online to students if there is not enough time in class. The material is recorded and can be used whenever and wherever later on by the teacher who wishes to use it to help future Mandarin learning students [12]
•Self-Paced Rhythm: Students can pick out the material that they can take in at a certain time and use it to help their progress in class. Certainly, it is something that is likely not possible in a classroom setting. Students can also fail at something online and not be subjected to public peer pressure that would possibly occur in a physical tutorial or classroom setting. Let's face it. Everyone needs to fail at times in order for them to learn.As Kaznowaka, et al.2011 mentioned, online University's education provides a customized learning experience for each student, combines to create a very powerful tool in supporting innovation. This tool is put to best use when it operates in parallel with the likewise critical blended learning opportunities increasingly offered by Canadian universities. [13]


•Diversity: It is critical for Mandarin courses to blend in the language with the local culture. Seeing that most of these post-secondary university Mandarin instructors are coming straight from Asia, it is important that what they teach and preach in North America isn't an exact replica of what they do back in Asia. The reason being students here may not be accustomed to that style of teaching and will likely not learn optimally.

•Limited Funding: Often is the case, new ideas aren't usually well funded. The same can be said about the incorporation of e-learning. It has been a known issue for the Mandarin department at SFU as there is only a limited number of online courses that are available due to lack of funding. [14]
Most times, the curriculum are directly taken from these Chinese institutions because of the already established channels, which means it's cheaper and more accessible for educators in Vancouver. While the current materials are decent, it would be even better if there were some modification of the materials to incorporate local themes, which will make it easier and more enjoyable for students to pick up on.

•Potential Deviation from Core: There is also always the danger that teachers will fall for e-learning entirely and have all exams and tests online. This can negate the effectiveness of teaching Mandarin particularly when Mandarin is a language that requires person to person interaction since Mandarin is noted as one of the hardest language to learn.

•Online Curriculum requires proper adaptation: E-learning is fairly new and so is the massive demand for Mandarin teaching. The composition of these two means that there may not be a lot of properly designed e-material that is offered for Mandarin. Therefore, each school will need to either acquire the proper template elsewhere or build the online curriculum through extensive planning themselves if they want their students to learn most effectively. In addition, how well will the transition towards adapting to this new style of e-learning go? [15]


The chart below is based on George Siemens' Table 1. Learning Theories, along with the addition of Vygosky's social Constructivism for a comparative effect. [16]
Property Behaviourism Cognitivism Constructivism Social Constructivism
How Learning Occurs Black box- observable behaviour main focus Structured, Computational Social, Meaning created by each learner (personal) Social, interactive, collaborative
Influencing Factors Nature of reward, punishment, stimuli Existing Schema, Previous Experiences Engagement, Participation, Social, Cultural Negotiation, cultural, environmental, historical and interactive impacts
Role of Memory Memory is the hardwiring of repeated experiences – where reward and punishment are most influential Encoding, Storage, Retrieval Prior Knowledge remixed to current context Group members' prior experiences in different contexts mixed with individual's knowledge
How transfer occurs Stimulus, Response Duplicating knowledge constructs of "knower" Socialization Socialization & Collaboration & Scaffolding
Types of Learning Best Explained Task-Based Learning Reasoning, clear objectives, problem solving Social, vague ("ill defined") Social, cultural and historical

“With the rising interest in learning Chinese the world over and the ever changing technology in the 21st century, Chinese teaching professionals are confronted with new challenges of accommodating the diverse learning needs and various learning styles of the increasing student population as well as of taking advantage of the novel electronic and digital devices for pedagogical purposes.” [17]

As what the president of the TCSL Association, Robert S. Chen, said, we must use the most novel and innovative way to create hybrid learning for maximum educational outcome. In Asia, especially in Hong Kong, Taiwan and China, many teachers are still using traditional teaching styles. Fortunately in North America, many post secondary educators are progressing in the direction of constructivism and social constructionism to encourage students to actively learn as well as having peer cooperation as seen in the chart above. An example would be how SFU had a summer program that cooperated with the International Education College, Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Not only did students get to learn through the use of situated learning to comprehend practical Chinese, these SFU students also created friendships which further helped to refresh their Chinese through online interactions.

Something else to note would be the software Dr. Laifong Leung created called Concise Interactive Chinese On the website, it states that it would help “master the basics of the Chinese language in twelve lessons.” However, what cannot be overlooked is that the road to teaching Mandarin is still in its early stages of development even in Vancouver where the language is very popular. In the future, with the vast amount of Chinese students in Metro Vancouver, we can employ native and fluent speakers to help those who want to speak this language on a daily basis as a measure to improve and maintain their language skills. Since Chinese characters are like pictographs and deal with various tones, game based learning would also be beneficial as seen in Ambient Insight's report.

Teaching Mandarin as a second language may not be a core course due to the lack of funding, but it is advised that in the future, one can ask the government or non-profit institutions to help establish specific online teaching platforms and LMS to contribute to a more steady development. This way it can help enhance the already very multicultural diversity that is present in Canada today and possible increase the diplomatic relations between Canada and China and other Mandarin speaking nations.

Further Reading

The Canadian TCSL Association
The 8th International Conference on Internet Chinese Education


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  2. Chinese: An Expanding Field. (2014). Retrieved March 7, 2014, from Asia Society:
  3. Lofholm, N. (2012, October 22). The Denver Post. Retrieved March 7, 2014, from Mandarin Chinese becoming first choice as second language:
  4. Lofholm, N. (2012, October 22). The Denver Post. Retrieved March 7, 2014, from Mandarin Chinese becoming first choice as second language:
  5. UBC. (2011). Retrieved March 7, 2014, from UBC Chinese Language Program:
  6. UBC. (2014). Retrieved March 7, 2014, from UBC Continuing Studies:
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  8. BCIT. (2014). Retrieved March 7, 2014, from BCIT International:
  9. The Rise and Rise of Mandarin but how many will end up speaking it. (2011). Retrieved March 7, 2014, from Telegraph: of-Mandarin-but-how-many-will-end-up-speaking-it.html
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  11. Wilson, B. Thoughts on theory in educational technology. Educational Technology, 37(1), 22-26.
  12. Why E-Learning is so Effective. (2010, February 2). Retrieved March 7, 2014, from
  13. Kaznowska, E., Rogers, J., and Usher, A. (2011). The State of E-Learning in Canadian Universities. If Students Are Digital Natives, why Don't they Like E-Learning? Toronto: higher Education Strategy Associates
  14. Canadian TCSL Association Special Annual Meeting. (2012). Canadian Teaching Chinese as a Second Language Association. Vancouver: TCSL.
  15. Impact and Challenges of E-Learning. (2003). EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research , 39-42.
  16. George Siemens(2008) Learning and Knowing in Networks: Changing roles for Educators and Designers Retrieved November 12th, 2012 from (p11)
  17. Shanghai Summer Program. (2013). Retreived March 7, 2014, from TCSL: