A cast and crew of about 300 actors, directors, language specialists, authors, producers and cameramen helped bring to life what is considered the world's first dramatic series aimed at helping US students learn Mandarin Chinese.
Encounters: Chinese Language and Culture - a fully integrated multimedia coursework - began production in 2007 and was officially launched in the US in 2011. The program now assists beginner Chinese language students in 45 high schools and universities across the US.
Last week, members of the Yale University Press and China International Publishing Group (CIPG) met to launch Encounters in Beijing to extend their program to students in foreign high schools and universities in China.
"Immersing students in the language and culture of Chinese through the vehicle of a dramatic series is a very effective method [in teaching the language]," John Donatich, director of Yale University Press, wrote while abroad in response to a China Daily e-mail inquiry. "It not only shows the language being used in a natural setting, but the storyline increases student engagement with the materials."
Yale University Press and China International Publishing Group equally shared the $5.5 million cost to produce the program centered on a 20-episode TV series split into two books and DVDs and includes a website, podcasts, rap songs, screenplays, workbooks and instructor manuals, among other materials.
"The biggest challenge was the scope of the project," Donatich wrote about the five-hour dramatic series with an additional three hours of cultural videos. "The Yale-CIPG partnership was strong and we collaborated well together to make it all work."
Encounters was filmed onsite in Yangshuo, Beijing, Qinghai Lake, Shanghai, Suzhou and Xi'an, and tells the stories of a diverse group of people traveling, living and working in China, and how their lives are changed by their experiences.
"Yale assembled a team of language and film experts to create the storyline and the scope and sequence for the dramatic series, as well as for the cultural videos," Donatich wrote. "The Yale team worked collaboratively with the production team assembled by CIPG to complete the scripting, cast the actors, scout locations and execute the production plan."
The program is based on the latest language learning research, which combines in-class, individual, pair and group activities to better cater to students' preferred study methods and different learning abilities.
Student Book 1, which can be used over one college semester or one high school year, costs $94.99. Topics covered include making introductions and appointments, discussing oneself and family members, and shopping and bargaining, with the aim to prepare students in interacting with Chinese speakers and to have a foundation of Chinese culture.
With the same cost and completion length, Student Book 2 builds on the themes and knowledge gained from Book 1 and introduces more activities essential to living in China, such as grocery shopping, arranging travel itineraries, having dinner in a Chinese friend's home, and eating out.
By the end of the entire course, students may achieve between a low-intermediate and a mid-intermediate level language proficiency and engage in conversations in real-life situations. The series is based on the standards of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages.
Donatich said Yale and CIPG completed filming the video materials in China this week for Encounters II intermediate level language program, which will be published in 2014. He also said an online, electronic workbook to accompany Student Book 1-2 is in production and will be available this fall.