Justin Wong (Cohort 2016) knows what it’s like to learn a second language as a child: “I remember learning Mandarin Chinese by candlelight before going to school in Malaysia, and kept questioning, ‘What’s the point of this?’”
Now, he teaches Mandarin Chinese as a second language at Korumburra Secondary College in Victoria. The kids, just like him, at first don’t see the point of learning a new language. When he started, he says “there was a lot of hesitation from the students.”
Korumburra is a remote community in South Gippsland with the majority of residents coming from an English-speaking background. Chinese culture is visible in Korumburra through the presence of a Chinese restaurant, and occasional guests from China at the local dairy company. Previously, students had studied Italian as a Language Other Than English with mixed responses.
Justin has been involved in developing the college’s first Mandarin Chinese program in Korumburra Secondary College. His lessons involve calligraphy, ordering food, haggling and songs. Often described as a “creative” teacher, Justin strives to position the Chinese language and culture as meaningful to his students.
“I truly believe that students must make their own meaning with a second language, be it through creating, presenting and sharing.” He has since gone on to lead students on the biannual sister-school trip to China, and connect with the local dairy company, Burra Foods, in developing a Chinese language program.
“Burra Foods supplies dairy products to countries all over the world, one of whom is China,” Justin explains. “Last year, one group of Year 8s surveyed the company staff on their attitudes towards China. A large proportion of staff wanted to learn Chinese in order to communicate to their visitors and staff from China”.
Justin saw an opportunity: he could involve his students who were learning Chinese with the Burra Foods staff as peer conversation mentors. He designed classes for the Burra Foods staff, where a group of Year 8 students assisted in “mentoring the staff in small groups. The students are involved in correcting pronunciation, and introducing customs and etiquette to the staff”.
But it’s not all serious: “We’ve definitely honed our chopstick skills, having regular competitions between students and staff,” Justin laughs.
This program has helped the students use the Chinese language, and see the purpose and joys of learning another language. Their horizons have opened up:
With this program, Justin is putting Teach For Australia’s mission into action. After studying International Studies at university, he was looking for ways he could, as an individual, impact the world around him. “The [Teach For Australia] program is focused on community development on a grassroots level. After examining my strengths and weaknesses, I found that I’d gain the most satisfaction being ‘hands-on’, involved and connecting with the community”.
He’s doing just that, every day, inside and outside of the classroom.