[Introduction] Xiao Ningyao, female, is a teacher of the Chinese Department of Overseas Education College (OEC), Xiamen University (XMU). She joined OEC in July, 2008. From 2010 to 2012, she had been a Chinese teacher at the Confucius Institute at the University of Trier in Germany. She was awarded the Third Prize in the "International Chinese Excellent Courses Competition" held by the Confucius Institute Headquarters, the First Prize of the 10th XMU Young Teachers' Teaching Skills Competition, the "Best Courseware Award", and "Luyan Award", etc. Under her guidance, her students achieved good results many times in "Chinese Bridge" Foreign Students' Language Competition held by CCTV-4. In 2016, textbook series of Smart Cat Graded Chinese Readers written by Xiao were published.
Socrates, a famous Greek philosopher and educator, once said, "Education is not the filling of a vessel, but the kindling of a flame." It is Xiao's motto as well. This young Chinese language teacher, working hard in thinking and exploring, spared no effort to ignite the flame of Chinese culture.
In meeting with Xiao the first time, it is always possible to be attracted by her calmness, agreeableness and perseverance.
Xiao comes from a medical family in Yuzhong District, Chongqing. Her great-grandfather, who left a legacy of "medical practitioners for generations", was the first doctor of Kuanren Hospital founded in 1892, and her grandfather was one of the pioneers of Children's Medicine in Chongqing after the founding of the People's Republic of China. Growing up in such a medical family, she got addicted to Chinese literature unexpectedly. In retrospect, she smiled, "When I was young, my pocket money was almost used to buy all kinds of literary books. From ancient books to modern novels, from Chinese literature to Western drama, it was always difficult detaching myself from these books."
In 2001, Xiao was admitted to the Chinese Department of Sichuan University, majoring in Teaching Chinese to Speakers of Other Languages (TCSOL). It shocked her families that she was determined to study the liberal arts. Everyone considered it a bad choice to give up a smooth road as being a doctor and turn to an unknown field. In spite of families' persuasion in earnest, Xiao insisted on choosing TCSOL, her favorite major, which was unknown at that time but took her to the present wonderful world.
When she was a postgraduate, Xiao began to teach foreign students at Sichuan University, Southwestern University of Finance and Economics and Southwest University for Nationalities. "At most, I had to take more than twenty classes a week, not including the major courses I was required to study..." "At that time, there were no modern and contemporary literature materials suitable for international students, so I wrote them myself.” When she recalled the scene of the first teaching, everything presented its vivid picture. These experiences have made a valuable contribution to her classroom teaching and innovative teaching models now.
In 2008, she received a number of work invitations including one from the National Theatre. However, passionate about Chinese teaching, she chose to teach Chinese at OEC, XMU. Currently, her courses include Comprehensive Chinese, Modern and Contemporary Literature, Chinese Drama, Chinese Cultural Talents, Chinese Reading, Writing and so on. With great enthusiasm and awe for education, she often said, "The success of a teacher lies not in how much she or he teaches, but in how much the students can learn." In her opinion, every student is an independent individual, and teachers' responsibility is to inspire students and to help them discover themselves and improve themselves.
Anyone familiar with Xiao knows that she is not only a teacher, but also the Founder and General Director of "China Day" Cultural Festival.
In fact, as early as 2011, she directed the Chinese classic drama Thunderstorm on the stage of the University of Trier. The whole play followed the principle of not changing but retaining the original appearance of the original script by Cao Yu. In the face of German students without any performance experience and in order to present the best stage effect, Xiao corrected their pronunciation word by word, and guided their lines sentence by sentence. From dress rehearsal to stage movements, from performers' facial expression to their character emotions, she patiently guided them over and over again, so that they could have a deeper understanding and grasp of the relationship between characters as well as their psychology and personalities in this classic Chinese drama.
The play was a big success. The audiences were attracted by the familiar lines and excellent acting of the seven foreign students, who presented the unique charm of Thunderstorm. As a sensation, the performance was reported with stage photos by the most influential local newspaper - Friends of the Trier People, in a special edition. The play was performed four times in Germany, becoming the first complete drama played by Germans in Chinese. Because of this, Xiao was awarded by the Embassy of the People's Republic of China in the Federal Republic of Germany.
After returning to XMU in 2012, the "director" resumed her drama business. In order to let international students better understand the profound Chinese culture, to guide the postgraduate students of TCSOL to dig deeper into the Chinese culture, and to lay a solid foundation for the future teaching at the Confucius Institute overseas, she held the "China Day" Cultural Festival which was once held at the University of Luxembourg, and improved it in combination with the campus culture.
Every December, as the General Director of the "China Day" Cultural Festival, she always works around the clock. From planning and preparation to determining the form of activities, from rehearsal drills to the entire series of activities, she constantly puts in so much effort and dedication into making this program a success. From the 1st session organized in a small classroom to the 6th session organized with the participation and attention of the entire campus, this event has developed from a small cultural exchange activity with limited participants to a cultural festival containing a wide range of activities that involve over 500 Chinese and international faculty and students. "China Day" has become a major brand of OEC, and has gradually become a "flavoring agent" for the campus culture of Xiang'an Campus and a "catalyst" for cultural education and communication.
On the stage of the 6th "China Day", Yang Huanhuan, a Chinese graduate student, and Xu Qian, a Bangladeshi undergraduate, recited Saying Good-bye to Cambridge Again, a poem written by Xu Zhimo, in the native language of each other. A Bangladeshi audience was deeply moved to tears, which impressed Yang a lot. He remarked, "China Day has a more extraordinary meaning for me." Sun Haotian, a Nigerian graduate student, who was both the event host and staff of the Chinese Cultural Experience Zone, said that was a connotative teaching practice and all of the activities during "China Day" had successfully expressed the charm and characteristics of Sino-Foreign cultural exchange.
Through the Festival, the audience were shocked by the tremendous energy generated by the collision of culture, attracted by the inheritance and innovation of Chinese culture of 5,000 years, and touched by Xiao's persistence and hard work in "promoting cultural exchange between China and foreign countries and opening a window for international students to understand Chinese culture".
One afternoon in May, eighteen foreign students from Leiden University in the Netherlands gathered in the classroom of a Chinese short-term training course, vigorously debating around the topic in Chinese, "Do the benefits of globalization outweigh its disadvantages or not". Chinese graduate students and senior international students from the advanced class were invited to serve as judges. Chinese proverbs and online buzzwords were frequently used by the debaters, which surprised Chinese students greatly.
It was Xiao who designed this debate in accordance with the concepts of "global village" and "globalization trend", which were mentioned in the lecture of "Looking at Culture from TV Programs". This activity not only improved students' Chinese proficiency, but also guided them to better understand Chinese society and culture. She pointed out, "The difference between China and foreign countries is not only reflected in culture, but also in thinking mode. A good Chinese debater must think and express himself in a way that Chinese people think. By so doing, he could improve his thinking ability in Chinese."
Xiao believes that education is to motivate students to learn and think independently, instead of "filling a vessel". Her teaching philosophy is to let students truly understand what they have learned and gain some research experience. "Less is more". She often uses this sentence to, remind herself and those students who are about to become Chinese teachers the importance of what they are pursuing.
Adhering to such educational principle, Xiao constantly made innovation in her teaching. To make the classroom "lively", she always incorporated fresh and innovative teaching elements including reading, debate, drama performance and experimental writing. She encouraged the advanced Chinese learners to write scripts in Chinese and share them in class for a short-time performance. In order to help Chinese beginners find suitable reading materials, she often stayed up late writing short stories and novels for them. After one semester, the students' reading ability was greatly improved. Her works attracted the attention of Beijing Language and Culture University Press, and then were published by the Press as a series of textbooks, Smart Cat Graded Chinese Reader. To improve the international students' relatively weak abilities in listening and speaking, she assigned them some interesting homework like "interviewing five Chinese students on their opinions towards a hot issue" and "engaging in a phone call with Chinese friends", which aimed to encourage them to communicate boldly.
She often says, "Language is more than a part of the culture; it is a carrier of culture. Learning a language is a process from scratch, and the culture behind the language helps to achieve a connection." Based on this, in the second half of 2018, Xiao and Chen Duantuan developed a new course titled "Chinese Traditional Culture Experience". In addition to lectures, they organized filed trips, folk culture experiences and other activities for the students. By combining the classroom teaching and the hands-on experience, they encouraged international students to steep themselves into the community and acquaint themselves with the most authentic Chinese culture so as to tell the multidimensional Chinese story.
Xiao has never stopped thinking and exploring new ways to make her teaching impactful. She always said modestly, "I can learn a lot while teaching others. Teach students the knowledge and in return, take inspiration from them, this is the so-called notion of 'teaching is learning'".
In Xiao’s eyes, it is her duty and responsibility to help students grow up. Since she started teaching, she has often encouraged international students to participate in various Chinese competitions and spares no effort to provide guidance. In 2009, as the team leader and instructor, she led five students selected from Fujian Division to participate in the CCTV4’s the 2nd “Chinese Bridge”. Finally, they gained one Silver Award, two Excellent Awards and two Honorable Mentions. Two of the award-winners, Kajia, a Ukrainian student, and Wu Mengtian, an American student, took China as their second hometown after graduation, devoting themselves to promoting Sino-Foreign cultural exchanges.
In the summer of 2018, Xiao guided the Turkish student Bai Tingli to participate in the National Finals of the 2nd “Chinese Language Teaching Idols”. Xiao accompanied Bai during the Competition, providing careful guidance and psychological counseling to her. In Xiao’s retrospect, Bai became quite nervous when she found the competition was suddenly getting more difficult. To reduce her anxiety, Xiao first distracted Bai’s attention from the competition by talking with her randomly, and then helped Bai to get her ideas into shape. She joked, “Waiting for the student outside the exam room makes me feel like a mother who accompanies her child to take the college entrance examination.”
Hard work pays off. After fierce competition, Bai finally won the Third Prize of the National Finals with the sixth place in the foreign student group. Xiao was awarded the “Best Instructor” for her remarkable contribution. Speaking of her teacher, Bai’s heart was full of appreciation, “Because of Ms. Xiao, I got where I am today. She seems to have some kind of magic, which spurs me on learning Chinese constantly.”
Xiao has won the trust and respect from both Chinese and international students with her kindness, amiableness, patience and conscientiousness. Dedicated to education, she is willing to answer their questions even at midnight. There was once a Thai student who wanted to drop out of school because of economic reasons. Hearing this, Xiao talked to him many times, and encouraged him to continue his education. She used to dedicate an hour or two to listen to and counsel the student. With her encouragement and help, the student participated in XMU “Foreigners singing Chinese songs, Chinese singing foreign songs” competition and won the championship. Besides, he successfully completed his study at Xiamen University with his graduation thesis being rated excellent.
After reading the letter from President Xi Jinping to Professor William Brown, she said, “As a native Chinese who takes great responsibility of telling the Chinese story to the foreigners, we should also shoulder the burden of promoting TCSOL education and Sino-Foreign cultural exchanges.” The simple words convey her great love of Chinese culture and also express her ideal of being a guide on the growing path of every student.
Regarding the promotion of Chinese culture as her mission, Xiao earnestly tells the story of China to all over the world, and introduces the image of contemporary China to the world. Her dedication kindles the sparks of Chinese learning, and promotes these sparks into the flame of exchanges and mutual learning among civilizations. With Xiao’s spirit, a harmonies picture of human civilization would be presented one day.