An Imperative for Innovation in Chinese Language Pedagogy

Though interest in studying Chinese as a second language has increased dramatically in the past 20 years and enrollments in Chinese have steadily grown since the mid-1990s, it is clear that the rapid growth of the 2000s is waning. A recent study by the MLA is showing that university level study of Chinese has only grown by 2% in recent years. Those of us who teach Chinese find ourselves at a crossroads – how can we sustain interest in studying Chinese among students and in our schools?

My feeling is that Chinese is such a long-term endeavor of intense focus and study, we Chinese teachers really have to push the envelope to make Chinese learning as fun, innovative and user-friendly as possible, because to devote years to learn a tonal, character-based language is not an easy endeavor at all. In other words, we need to innovate our craft in order to KEEP STUDENTS MOTIVATED to study – and master – Chinese over the long haul.

It is with this call to arms that I am posting this first blog post for the Chinese Innovation Forum. This forum was founded with the express purpose to find ways to innovate our teaching practices in Chinese language education in order to sustain and build the great strides our field has seen in the past two decades. The Chinese Innovation Forum has met three times in the past few years, and the fourth Forum meeting will take place at my school the Chinese American International School (CAIS) in San Francisco. I am lucky to work at CAIS, the oldest K-8 dual immersion Chinese-English school in the United States, and a school for which one mission is to “Embrace Chinese.”

So, allow this Forum now to take a web presence. How do you as a Chinese teacher “embrace Chinese”? How do you share this spirit in the way you design lessons and teach in the classroom so that your students will share in this love of this fascinating, beautiful and often maddening language? This online forum will showcase ways of innovation, both shared during our upcoming 4th Chinese Innovation Forum to be held at CAIS on October 6, 2018. I will follow up with some reflections on how I use digital tools to sustain student interest while also moving toward learning goals, as well as how our CAIS Chinese language teaching team has been using Project Based Language Learning to develop 21st Century Skills. As a start, I will share this hot-off-the-presses CELIN Briefs Series on “Learning Chinese in the Digital Age,” which I co-authored with Ann Marie Gunter and Jiahang Li, which highlights many innovative approaches to integrating tech and digital tools in Chinese language learning.

We also invite you to submit your writing and your ideas in this forum! If you have an idea which you would like to write up – either in English or Chinese, 中文、英文都可以! – please contact us with your ideas. Until then, happy innovating!

Adam Ross

Thanks to Adam for posting this first blog piece.
Adam Ross is an experienced Chinese language and culture educator,  who is currently the CAIS Chinese Content and Tech Specialist. He also serves as a curriculum design and evaluation consultant for critical languages in several STARTALK programs across the US. Please post your questions to Adam and comments below. You can also email Adam directly at


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