My name is John Columeau. My Chinese name is LI Tianxiang(李天翔 Lǐ Tiānxiáng). I am 39 years old and I am a certified Chinese teacher currently working at a high school in the south of France. Depending on the year, I also teach at middle school and / or university.
I am married to a Chinese woman. The huge advantage of a Franco-Chinese couple is that French understands the difficulties a Westerner has in learning Chinese, and that Chinese brings all the authenticity to the language and to the culture. This double cultural angle of view is clearly visible in the courses of the site between level 3 which presents Chinese culture as discovered by a Westerner and level 4 which addresses the culture seen by the Chinese. You can learn more in the part “The method”.
I have been teaching Mandarin Chinese for over 16 years now and have been working at this site for over 10 years. I don’t like to talk too much about myself, but many people wanted to know the story of the teacher who created these online courses.
Pedagogical, administrative and disability referent
So here is my story as a Chinese learner and teacher:
I started to learn Chinese in middle school as a second foreign language. It was a very rare option at the time and I am very happy that I was able to benefit from it. I continued at the University of Aix-Marseille (south of France).
My first teaching experience was during the summer, at the end of my second year of university. I went to work for 3 months in Vietnam as a volunteer in a humanitarian mission. I did a lot of administrative work, but I was also asked to give French lessons to high school students and adults. I had not received any pedagogical training and this experience especially taught me that you cannot improvise yourself as a teacher. The positive side is that it made me ask a lot of questions about pedagogy. It was also during this humanitarian mission that I met the Children of the Mekong volunteers. I was able to see them work and that is why I have complete confidence in them and support this association.
After my BA, I got a one-year scholarship to study in China. Interested in ancient texts, the connection between thought and language, and Chinese medicine, I went to Nanjing University of Chinese Medicine. During this period, I was also able to teach FLE (French as a foreign language) at the Alliance Française in the same city. I also attended educational training there. This has given me a lot for pedagogy: especially on the gap between theory and practice!
At the end of this year in China, I returned to France to validate my Master Degree of Chinese. I then returned to Nanjing. I wanted to understand the Chinese world even better. I taught English in a bilingual kindergarten for several months. Another teaching experience, but with toddlers. At the Alliance Française, I had an adult audience: students, professionals, retirees. It is very enriching to be confronted with such different audiences.
For personal reasons, I returned to France. My first position was that of trainer-corrector in Chinese at Cned (the French National Centre for Distance Education). It immediately put me in the bath of distance learning and autonomy. I then found a job as a Chinese teacher and librarian (the hours were not enough to do full time in Chinese) in a small private high school in Normandy. I really liked the work of the librarian because you can see the students from a different angle, not as a teacher, but as someone who helps and guides the students in their different works, research , homework, etc.
I have never found myself in the traditional view of the teacher as a scholar who transmits his knowledge.
More than teaching, I love to learn. I like to share on learning strategies. I like my students to become independent and responsible. I have a great horror of having to impose things, to discipline (tough in Western countries!).
Still in high school, I continued to work at Cned (the French National Centre for Distance Education). I also worked for eight years as a sworn translator and interpreter. Translation is a very interesting exercise, but more for literary than technical texts. We are really confronted with semantics, with the way in which the genius of each language can express reality in its own way. The link between thought and language is fascinating! But as an interpreter, I also worked in corporate world. And, this is interesting, my services were often called upon not only for communication, but above all to be a cultural bridge. Some contractors (Chinese or Westerners) already spoke both languages (at different levels), but felt the need to have at their side a person who had a good grasp of cultural codes. These experiences strongly contributed on the cultural aspect of Learn-Chinese.online's courses.
In the meantime, I have passed the Chinese Capes (the French Certificate of aptitude for secondary school teachers). I spend the details of the internship year, quite complicated (a high school, two colleges + training in different places, obviously far away!). Once the internship year was validated, I returned to the south where I still teach mainly in high school. Depending on the year, I also intervene in middle school, university and, on a very ad hoc basis, in schools. As a student, I had all ages, from 2 to 99 (well 75 for the oldest)!
I started to take an interest in computers early in my teacher mission. Strongly encouraged by Mr. Bellassen who understood well the stake of the digital revolution which we live, I started to work on the computer tool to make slideshows (at the time, it was already a revolution), then small static websites on Chinese culture.
In 2011, a friend told me about Moodle. It is an LMS (Learning Management System). A pre-designed site code for education. It took me over 6 months to self-study how to set up, configure and build a basic course. Moodle is a real war machine. A database under a basic installation of Wordpress has ten tables at most. Under Moodle it's over 300. It's very rich, but very complex.
So I started doing lessons and exercises and testing them with my students from middle school to university. At that time, I was working simultaneously in the 3 levels (middle school, high school, university) + translations. It was very tough.
Feedback from students were very good. In addition, the university's language centre wanted to do blended learning: half face-to-face, half online. It was very motivating. As I said above, I feel more like a learner who shares with other learners than a teacher who imposes his course. I built the site with this idea. It was to allow students to learn on their own. This frees up class time for practice. I can also consult the work and the follow-up of my students. The site also allows for a lot of one-on-one interactive exercises. Which would be impossible in class.
So I developed these courses by sharing with learners, modifying, and constantly improving based on their feedback. And I keep doing it. There is still a lot of room for improvement!
As the site requires a dedicated server, and therefore expensive, I opened the course to the general public, to finance it. So that everyone can access it, I have set extremely low prices, on average 5 to 10 times cheaper than what you find elsewhere! Anyone can register and learn freely. I don't want the price to be a barrier to education. Right now, I may not have a fair return for the work invested, but I'm trying to see the long term.
Feedback from “general public” learners has been brilliant. The method is really appreciated. I learn even more thanks to the exchanges on the forum. This is called socio-constructivism! Moodle was designed with this in mind. For the record, Moodle, which is open source and free software, was developed by Martin Dougiamas, an Australian who turned down a $ 20 million takeover offer so it wouldn't fall into mercantile hands. He prefers to receive a salary and that his software remains at the service of everyone. It’s beautiful and inspiring.
As the site is taking a long time, I stopped working at Cned and as a translator-interpreter. Hopefully, it will bring enough resources for me to devote more time to it, as well as to the YouTube videos. I have a smartphone app project that I started but couldn't complete due to lack of time. My goal is to work part-time in my high school and devote more time to these projects: website, books, videos and applications.
So, if you want to support me, don't hesitate to talk about the site around you. A little message is a great pleasure too!