TDR Zoom In Books

The Introduction of TDR Zoom In Books

During my time at university decades ago in Beijing, China, my main subject was Stage Dialogue Studies. I was recruited by SOAS University of London in 1980s for my specialist profession and became a Mandarin teacher. However, once the academic term started I realised that my mother language had no “grammatical code”. All the grammar textbooks were explained using the Indo-European system of languages. This situation existed not only in the U.K., but all over the world. Even more astonishing was the fact that all the grammatical knowledge I gained in China was rooted in the Indo-European system!

Later, during my years of teaching I learnt that even the Indo-European system didn’t help in explaining some sentence structures in Chinese. In fact, a number of universities, including SOAS had been offering doctorates for years to invite Chinese scholars to solve these grammatical difficulties. The Indo-European system was simply not well-suited to explaining the Chinese language.
So, mostly inspired by curiosity, as well as professional needs, I began looking back at the history of ancient China and to research the roots of the Chinese language.

This Chinese grammatical idea was growing and developing during my whole university teaching life from 1987 to 2007. The teaching materials were finally completed during the period when I was the main grammar tutor for the Diploma Course in Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language from 2004 to 2007. I remember that the situation at that time was a bit confusing as on the one hand I was teaching students using the Chinese-Indo-European system in the daytime, whilst on the other hand, in the evening, I was writing my own grammar book. This confusing time finally ended with the completion of the textbooks that involved rewriting the History of Chinese Grammar, and after the proposal I made was ignored I decided to resign from my position. Fortunately, at that time I had already established my own language institute, Meridian Chinese Studies.

I named my textbook series– TDR Zoom In Chinese. Its name is derived from the ancient Chinese practices from the agricultural period where the tradition is to forecast the results first then undertaking the actions. Without a doubt, the characters were formed as a result of these customs and were a record of the true face of life during that period.

In practice, ancient farmers always planned their activities in light of the conditions of the environment around them. Therefore, character order later became the grammar order of a sentence – the rule of the Chinese language, the word order now known as T (Time) D (Place) R (Action). My contribution to this fascinating journey is terming this Zoom-In. As this grammar system is simplistic, in that it can be easily followed by all nationalities as they are asked to only follow the life sequences and filling it with Chinese words.

Besides highlighting the word order in the textbooks, I have also classified all Chinese characters into two basic groups. The first group being ‘Definite Words’, meaning they can be translated and the second group being ‘Indefinite Words’, meaning they are untranslatable, like question particles, interjections, and onomatopes etc. The words of the first group occupy about 96% of Chinese sentences, and the indefinite words, like grammatical codes that need to be taught. At the completion of the three beginners’ books, not only would the basic grammar structures be covered but also students would be able to recognise 415 characters.

It has been proven through research that Chinese sentences can be expressed without the grammatical codes, in other words, grammatical codes only make sentences clearer and simpler. Furthermore, if a sentence follows the natural word order, and doesn’t have grammatical codes, it can still be understood and communicated. This is the content of TDR Zoom In Book 1, then each unit of Book 2 & Book 3 decodes one grammatical code. By the end of these three books students would have covered all the basic grammar.

The first three Zoom In Books can be completed in a total of 76 hours, and students would have reached a level to be able to take and pass the HSK 2 exam(equivalent to A2). Students who complete Book 4 with an additional 24 hours of studying and 10-20 hours practicing HSK 3 papers can expect to pass the HSK 3(B1) test. The information table below shows the marks our students in London achieved on 21st May 2011.

The TDR Zoom In books with  HSK Test Results in May 2011

Comparing the time spent in order to achieve HSK 3, students using Zoom In Books 1 to 4 on average spend 100-120 hours and students from other Chinese institutes in the UK spend 300-350 hours.

The reason these results can be obtained in much shorter time is due to the structure of the lessons. Using the Zoom In Books an average of only 5-7 minutes is spent on explaining grammar out of the 2 hour class, taking only 5% of the time. This means that students spend most of the class time practicing listening, reading, speaking and writing skills. In contrast, other institutions spend 50% of the class time on grammar explanation and practice.

Looking at the Chinese grammar of the TRD Zoom In Books, there are two methods that could be used, the first being the DTR Zoom In Drills:

Taking Unit Five as an example:

(1) I will go to the college library to read books today in the evening at 7pm.
or (2) I today in the evening at 7pm will go to the college library to read books.

The first sentence would not be acceptable in Chinese, as it does not follow a logical word order. According to the rules of “Tian (time) Di (location) Ren (activities)”, or following the principles of the natural world, we must identify the time before the location. Using the example above, I cannot go to the college library without the time having already been established; and in accordance with how the event would naturally unfold, the sentence order would be the second. This word order is the only acceptable one in Chinese

The DTR Zoom In Drills will build the sentence like here below:

  • 我 I
  • 我今天 I today
  • 我今天晚上 I today in the evening
  • 我今天晚上七点 I today in the evening at 7
  • 我今天晚上七点去 I today in the evening at 7 will go to
  • 我今天晚上七点去学校 I today in the evening at 7 will go to the college
  • 我今天晚上七点去学校图书馆 I today in the evening at 7 will go to the college library
  • 我今天晚上七点去学校图书馆看 I today in the evening at 7 will go to the college library to read
  • 我今天晚上七点去学校图书馆看书. I today in the evening at 7 will go to the college library to read books.

Students are asked to read the stair-shaped sentences very loudly, in order to reinforce the chains of  language process in their brain. After a period of ‘brainwashing’ , the Zoom In process will slowly become second natureand they will be able to avoid a lot of mistakes from their own linguistic structure.

The second method is called Snowballing:

The books have been designed carefully and systematically to gradually add both vocabulary and grammar as we get further deeper into the three textsbooks, this effect is termed snowballing. The advantage for the students is that when they read the stories they are usually able to grasp the grammar concepts, and even if there is some confusion the Zoom In process and the word order gives them a clear indication of the answer.

When the Snowball runs into Unit 5, they would have reached 635 Chinese characters(including the punctuations) and covered some of the most important sentence structures, like, “to be…”, “to have…”, “to be situated…”, “to do…”, “to judge…”, and “to compare…”. The learner should be able to read and comprehend a long story in Chinese, and more importantly, it will provide them with the tools and confidence to be ready to start Book 2 which begins to tackle Chinese grammatical codes.

Zoom In textbooks are unique and different to a number of new-age ‘situational’ Chinese textbooks. The main advantage of situational textbooks is that the designed dialogues are very specific, can be used for a particular situation, like in a train station, exchanging currencies etc., the disadvantages are when the situation changes, it will be extremely confusing to use the fixed pattern and grammar to deal with a new environment. Frankly, situational materials do not help the learner to understand the root of the grammar and hinder the continuity of learning.

In short, some academics says:”TDR Zoom In is a revolutionary idea”, I personally like to quote a sentence from an associative professor Shoujin Zhou of Peking University, the first leader of Confucius Institute in London in 2005, he said:” Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. Knowledge is the best charity.”