Dr Helena Sit
School of Education
- Phone: (02) 49217172
Helena Sit- Mastering Mandarin
What does it take to motivate students to learn Mandarin Chinese? In an increasingly globalised world this question is finding more importance as Australia-Asia trade links and cultural exchanges increase. Language teacher educator Dr Helena Sit is investigating what it takes to engage and inspire non-Chinese heritage high school students to study the complicated language of the world’s most populous country.
As a lecturer and researcher in second language education Dr Helena Sit brings a wealth of knowledge to the field. Having grown up in mainland China and received second language education research training in both Hong Kong and Australia, the native Chinese speaker knows first-hand the challenges faced by those learning a second language. Her research confirms these challenges but also sets out to find solutions to the obstacles faced by students learning a second language. She says one of her most important tasks as a scholar is to prepare students for careers in a rapidly changing and increasingly globalised workforce, where bilingualism or multilingualism is highly valued.
“Language teaching should be dynamic in order for students to be motivated to stick with the language and become bilingual. I’m eager to innovate teaching programs along with stakeholders to facilitate the education of students learning Chinese,” Dr Sit said.
One of her research foci now is on a project based at Newcastle Grammar School. It is one of the oldest traditional private schools in New South Wales and in 2017 they began to offer Chinese language classes to high school students. Dr Sit’s research at the school focuses on the strategies needed for teaching and motivating secondary students to learn Chinese.
“In stage one of the project we investigated the experiences, perceptions and attitudes of students learning Chinese. We also asked the students about their reasons for choosing Chinese as an elective,” she said.
“We found that almost all the Newcastle Grammar School students were of non-Chinese heritage and they wanted to learn Chinese for future use for their careers or for travel. They definitely saw the benefits in learning Chinese, it wasn’t just their parents influencing their decision, though that did come into it partly,” Dr Sit said.
Stage two of the research project aims to identify effective teaching methods to enhance the learning of Chinese at the school.
“We are pinpointing the helpful strategies that facilitate positive interaction between teachers and students. We’re also investigating the student’s perceptions of the strategies that best help them learn Chinese.”
“The students at Newcastle Grammar School are very lucky to be benefitting from a very experienced Chinese language teacher who uses a lot of motivational strategies, which has resulted in more than half the students being very positive about wanting to continue on with learning Chinese into the Higher School Certificate. The students feel being greatly supported by their School, Principal and Head Teacher has facilitated their LOTE (Languages Other Than English) learning experiences at Newcastle Grammar” Dr Sit said.
Dr Sit observes the students and teacher interactions and closely watches the student’s responses to see what strategies are effective in motivating the class. She has found that students perform best when the teacher creates a very lively and interactive lesson and learning environment.
“We found that hands on activities like worksheets, singing or drawing are effective strategies. Similarly, talking to the students about Chinese festivals, imparting basic knowledge through story-telling and giving them opportunities to dress up and taste Chinese cuisine are fantastic ways to enhance the student’s learning. Using online and digital resources also helps engage students with Chinese language literature to enhance their appreciation of literary styles. Our research shows that the students really appreciate the level of effort their teacher goes to,” Dr Sit noted.
Declining motivation but an increase in need
But why do today’s students need motivation to learn Chinese? Current research figures show that second language learning in Australia is in rapid decline and that most students don’t choose to study a second language after year ten. Recent figures released by Australia-China Relations institute (ACRI) show a severe decline in L2 Chinese learning in Australia that only 0.1 percent (or 4,149 out of 3,694,101) of Australian secondary students took Year 12 Chinese in 2015. Of which, less than 400 were of non-Chinese backgrounds.
Dr Sit says the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians emphasises that young Australians need to be “Asia literate, engaging and building strong relationships with Asia” and able “to relate to and communicate across cultures, especially the cultures and countries of Asia” (Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs, 2008, p.4).
“Therefore, Chinese language teaching and learning is greatly promoted in the climate under which the nationally agreed goals for schooling are made in Australia to respond to the need to encourage and enable Australian citizens for a life closely intertwined with the Asian context,” she said.
“Mandarin Chinese has been identified as a must-have language for learners from kindergarten to university within and beyond the Asia-Pacific region (McLaren, 2011). In a nutshell, there is an urgent need for Australian schools to boost the number of students learning Chinese, especially those who are non-Chinese background learners,” Dr Sit concluded.
Add to this the high level of difficulty and complicated nature of the Chinese language where students need to memorise hundreds of characters and you can see why research is needed to find strategies to motivate Chinese learners.
“There are a few distinct groups of students in Australia who are learning Chinese. Those born in Australia that have a Chinese heritage and their parents speak Chinese. Then there are those with a Chinese background but whose parents don’t speak Chinese; and those from a non-Chinese background. In terms of ongoing Chinese language learners it’s the group of non-Chinese heritage students that has seen the most decline,” Dr Sit said.
“Given that Australia has increasingly close trade and cultural links to Asia it’s interesting that many students still choose to learn French or German at high school. As China's role in our economic and strategic future continues to grow, we need a deeper capacity to engage with it on a linguistic and cultural level playing field. If we equip our high schoolers with the right strategies to learning Chinese then they will stick with the language for longer, potentially opening up a multitude of career opportunities, not only in Asia, but in Australia where the number of Chinese tourists is increasing,” Dr Sit added.
Dr Sit says while high school language learners are declining, there is a tendency now at the University level for students to combine majors with the Chinese language.
“Popular majors such as business, communication, law and psychology can be combined with Chinese language studies at several Australian institutions. These majors are very attractive to both domestic and international students and this indicates a new trend in studying Chinese for a special purpose, which aligns with the National Research Priority goal that Australian institutions and teachers should enhance student’s capacity to engage with the regional and global environment. For example, there is a Practical Business Chinese course being offered at UoN” she said.
“The motivations behind this are not solely due to Australia’s geographical proximity to Asia, but it’s the technologically advanced society in which we live which allows our younger learners to have broader visions about the future. Some students express that Chinese is becoming more and more important and essential in a wide range of careers, hence it makes sense to not limit themselves to only work in Australia.”
With a personal background and special interest in the field, Dr Sit is excited to be working and teaching in Australia and is glad to contribute her knowledge and expertise to the field of second language education.
“To date, limited studies have been undertaken to promote effective LOTE strategies that can benefit students, schools and wider communities. There is a lack of indicative data on parental attitudes, students’ motivations, and scholarly, sufficient support from teachers, schools and communities towards Asian language learning in Australian schools. Furthermore, possible collaboration opportunities for resource sharing and development between main-stream school and community schools should be explored and developed.”
“For me I really need to understand how the Australian teachers teach Chinese language in an Australian context and how students respond to this learning. This has got both pedagogical and curriculum implications for language education research in Australia. The kind of research I’m currently doing gives me a chance to get the empirical evidence needed to support second language curriculum design, implementation and development, in the hope of proposing an effective pedagogical model of Chinese language teaching and learning in Australia,” she concluded.
What does it take to motivate students to learn Mandarin Chinese? In an increasingly globalised world this question is finding more importance as Australia-Asia trade links and cultural exchanges increase. Language teacher educator Dr Helena Sit is investigating what it…
I received my Bachelor's degree in English (First Class Honours) at Yunnan Normal University which is conceived in the National Southwest Associated University in China. I got an MEd in TESOL and a PhD degree in Education at the University of Newcastle, Australia. In 2011, I won the university annual award of best PhD thesis in Faculty of Education and Arts and my PhD thesis was also nominated by the University of Newcastle for the 2011 AARE (Australian Association of Research in Education) Doctoral Award.
Currently I am a Senior Lecturer in School of Education, the University of Newcastle. Prior to joining the University of Newcastle in 2016, I worked as a Lecturer in Academic Development (Higher Education) at Macquarie University and an academic at the University of Newcastle and the University of Hong Kong. My tertiary working experience started in the University of Hong Kong where the Hong Kong government funded research projects that I was involved in were related to school-based projects on genre-based pedagogy and innovation of bilingual education (English and Chinese). I then extended both of my teaching and research experience at the University of Newcastle as a PhD candidate and a casual academic/research associate and later at Macquarie University as a lecturer.
I lecture EDUC6025 TESOL Curriculum and Methodology and EDUC6124 English for Special Purpose as part of the units in the Master of Educational Studies (TESOL) and am currently involved in co-teaching Multiliteracies at undergraduate level. My research expertise includes Second Language Education, International Education, Cross-cultural Studies, and Teaching Strategies for Advanced English Learners. Being as a co-supervisor, I have about 8 current PhD students (from Vietnam, China, Indonesia and Australia) who are working in the areas of ESL/EFL teacher education. I have also been involving in projects on second language education (English and Chinese), cross-cultural learning and teaching, internationalisation, cultural diversity and inclusivity. Previous projects include language education (English and Chinese), discourse analysis and international education.
- Doctor of Philosophy, University of Newcastle
- Graduate Certificate in Educational Studies, University of Newcastle
- Master of Educational Studies, University of Newcastle
- Cultural Diversity and Inclusivity
- International Education
- Second Language Education
- Teacher Education
- Teaching English to Speakers of other Language
- Teaching Strategies for Advanced English Learners
Fields of Research
|200209||Multicultural, Intercultural and Cross-cultural Studies||20|
|130207||LOTE, ESL and TESOL Curriculum and Pedagogy (excl. Maori)||50|
|130313||Teacher Education and Professional Development of Educators||30|
|Title||Organisation / Department|
|Senior Lecturer||University of Newcastle
School of Education
|Dates||Title||Organisation / Department|
|6/09/2011 - 31/12/2015||
Learning and Teaching Centre
|1/02/2011 - 31/07/2011||Post-doctoral Fellow||The University of Hong Kong
Faculty of Education
|28/02/2008 - 30/06/2011||Casual Academic/Research Associate/Assistant||The University of Newcastle
|1/01/2007 - 31/12/2007||Research/Teaching (Genre-based Pedagogies, Teaching and Learning)||The University of Hong Kong
For publications that are currently unpublished or in-press, details are shown in italics.
Book (1 outputs)
|2017||Sit HWH, Inclusive Teaching Strategies for Discipline-based English Studies: Enhancing Language Attainment and Classroom Interaction in a Multicultural Learning Environment., Springer, Springer Singapore, 146 (2017) [A1]|
Chapter (2 outputs)
|2019||Sit H, 'Chen, S. & Sit, H. W. (Accepted). The impact of Australian language policies on Chinese language teaching. In Shei, C., Zikpi, M., & Chao, D. L. (Ed.). Routledge Handbook of Chinese Language Teaching. Taylor & Francis Routledge.', In Shei, C., Zikpi, M., & Chao, D. L. (Ed.). Routledge Handbook of Chinese Language Teaching., Taylor & Francis Routledge., Taylor & Francis Routledge. (2019)|
|2018||Sit HW, 'Sit. H. W. & Guo, S. J (forthcoming). Teaching in the digital era: An exploration of design principles to enhance students' L2 acquisition in a flipped class.', In Tso, W. B. (Ed.). Digital humanities and new ways of teaching (pp.166-196)., Springer, Springer (2018)|
Journal article (14 outputs)
Chen S, Sit HHW, 'The Northern Train on the Southern Track: Confucius Institutes in Australian Universities', The International Journal of Learning in Higher Education, 25 11-20 (2018)
Chen S, Sit HHW, 'Developing a "3-I model" for supervising international students' PhD research at Australian universities', International Journal of Learning in Higher Education, 24 13-21 (2017) [C1]
© Common Ground Research Networks, Shen Chen, Helena H. W. Sit. In recent years, supervising international research students has attracted increasing attention from academics in E... [more]
© Common Ground Research Networks, Shen Chen, Helena H. W. Sit. In recent years, supervising international research students has attracted increasing attention from academics in English-speaking countries such as Australia. In the field of international education, the importance of understanding linguistic and cultural diversity of students has been widely accepted and emphasised by academic staff members who are supervising international research students. In Australia, progress has made on research on PhD studies in the area of analysing reports of thesis examinations and psychological changes of PhD candidates in general. However, the majority of supervisors have paid attention to the students' linguistic deficiency in thesis writing instead of promoting cultural awareness of how to conduct a research in a new learning environment in comparison with that of their home countries. This article reports on a qualitative investigation on international students' experience during their research training with an aim to identify clearly the cultural dimension of understanding on major issues of conducting a PhD research at an Australian university. On the basis of the findings revealed by this research, the supervisors' role is re -interpreted. The article proposes a "3-I model" of supervision, which consists of instruction, inspiration, and interaction during the development of research training of international students.
|2016||Sit HW, Meshram K, 'A Study on International Students¿ Perceptions of Quality Learning in Australia', The International Journal of Pedagogy and Curriculum, 23 1-11 (2016) [C1]|
Sit HHW, 'A case study: The teaching strategies used for discipline-based study in english', International Journal of Literacies, 19 1-12 (2013)
The rapid growth of economic globalization has resulted in a fastening pace of internationalisation of higher education in Hong Kong. Since the hand-over in 1997, Hong Kong's... [more]
The rapid growth of economic globalization has resulted in a fastening pace of internationalisation of higher education in Hong Kong. Since the hand-over in 1997, Hong Kong's universities have been attracting an increasing number of Mainland students to undertake English studies. In spite of a remarkable social change and close connections to the Chinese education system, Hong Kong has still more or less maintained a British-style higher education system which is reflected in the fact that English-medium education and Western-oriented pedagogy are widely accepted. Research has been conducted on both local Hong Kong and Mainland students' strategies of learning English, but limited research is concerned with lecturers' pedagogical practices in teaching disciplinary studies of English, although language teaching methods for Special Purposes in Hong Kong have long been discussed. This study attempted to identify teaching strategies used in the English Department at a university in Hong Kong. Both quantitative and qualitative research methods were used. The findings revealed various teaching strategies and elicited responses from the two sub-cultural groups of students. The study focused on the students' views on higher education in Hong Kong and therefore it should make a potential contribution to the enhancement of teaching and learning at most institutions in Hong Kong. It is also of significance to quality learning and teaching in universities other than those in Hong Kong in the context of internationalization. © Common Ground, Herli Salim.
|2010||Sit HW, Chen S, 'Deconstructing the theoretical concepts for training teachers of chinese as a second language', Language Teaching and Linguistics Studies, 28-33 (2010) [C1]|
Sit HW, Chen S, 'The teaching strategies used for advanced english studies in english language teacher education', International Journal of Learning, 17 485-500 (2010) [C1]
|Show 11 more journal articles|
Conference (16 outputs)
|2018||Sit H, 'Sit, H. W. (2018). Second language teacher preparation in a globalised context. Keynote speech presented at the 5th HONGMEN Dialogue Forum (1 Dec 2018), School of Chinese as a Second Language in Peking University, Beijing.', Peking University, Beijing (2018)|
Chen S, Sit H, 'International ESL Teacher Trainees' Understanding of Effective Teaching Strategies', Windsor Hotel Barra and Convention Center (2017)
|2017||Sit HW, 'An Exploration of Design Principles to Enhance Students' L2 Acquisition in a Flipped Class. Invited keynote speech at RIDCH Symposium 2017 "Culture and the Humanities in the Digital Age", The Open University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong', Invited keynote speech at RIDCH Symposium 2017 "Culture and the Humanities in the Digital Age", The Open University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong (2017)|
|2010||Sit HW, Chen S, 'Teaching strategies for promoting classroom interaction of local and mainland students in higher education in Hong Kong', Enhancing Learning Experiences in Higher Education: International Conference. Programme & Abstracts, Hong Kong (2010) [E3]|
|2010||Chen S, Sit HW, 'Chinese postgraduate students' adjustment to the learning environment in an Australian university', Enhancing Learning Experiences in Higher Education: International Conference. Programme & Abstracts, Hong Kong (2010) [E3]|
|Show 13 more conferences|
Grants and Funding
|Number of grants||9|
Click on a grant title below to expand the full details for that specific grant.
20182 grants / $16,291
Funding body: Newcastle Grammer School
Funding body: University of Newcastle
|Funding body||University of Newcastle|
|Project Team||Doctor Helena Sit, Professor Yang Zhao|
|Scheme||International Research Visiting Fellowship|
|Type Of Funding||Internal|
20174 grants / $91,800
Funding body: Xin Jin Shan Education Foundation Inc
Funding body: University of Newcastle
Funding body: Research Institute for Digital Culture and Humanities (RIDCH), The Open University of Hong Kong
|Funding body||Research Institute for Digital Culture and Humanities (RIDCH), The Open University of Hong Kong|
|Scheme||Symposium grant from the Research Grants Coucil of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, China & OUHK Tin Ka Ping Centre of Chinese Culture|
|Type Of Funding||External|
Funding body: Faculty of Education, The University of Hong Kong
|Funding body||Faculty of Education, The University of Hong Kong|
|Scheme||The University of Hong Kong|
|Type Of Funding||External|
20163 grants / $8,000
Diversity and Inclusivity: A Pilot Study on Students’ Cross Cultural Learning Experience in TESOL courses$5,000
Funding body: The University of Newcastle
|Funding body||The University of Newcastle|
Dr Helena Sit
|Scheme||New Staff Grant|
|Type Of Funding||Internal|
Funding body: School of Education, The University of Newcastle
|Funding body||School of Education, The University of Newcastle|
|Scheme||International conference funding|
|Type Of Funding||Internal|
Conference Travel Grant$1,000
Funding body: FEDUA
|Scheme||University of Newcastle|
|Type Of Funding||Internal|
Number of supervisions
|Commenced||Level of Study||Research Title||Program||Supervisor Type|
|2018||PhD||The Development of Islamic English Materials for Intercultural Learning and Critical Pedagogy Perspectives||PhD (Education), Faculty of Education and Arts, The University of Newcastle||Co-Supervisor|
|2018||PhD||Why Thinking About Learning Matters: The Impact of Self-Regulated Learning Training on Self-Regulated Learning and Academic Performance. A Cross-Cultural Analysis of Australian and Japanese University Students.||PhD (Education), Faculty of Education and Arts, The University of Newcastle||Co-Supervisor|
|2017||PhD||Effectiveness of Blended Learning on Development of Learners' Communicative Competence||PhD (Education), Faculty of Education and Arts, The University of Newcastle||Co-Supervisor|
|2017||PhD||Evaluating the Role of L1 in Teaching Vocabulary and Grammar in Promoting Class Interaction in Indonesian EFL Classrooms||PhD (Education), Faculty of Education and Arts, The University of Newcastle||Co-Supervisor|
|2016||PhD||The Implementation of Cooperative Learning Techniques in English Language Teaching in Secondary Schools in Banjarmasin, Indonesia||PhD (Education), Faculty of Education and Arts, The University of Newcastle||Co-Supervisor|
|2016||PhD||An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis into the Cross-Cultural Adaptation of Mainland Chinese Doctoral Students in Australian Universities||PhD (Education), Faculty of Education and Arts, The University of Newcastle||Co-Supervisor|
|2015||PhD||Examining the efficacy of Chinese as A Foreign Language Programs in Australian Universities: Case Study in NSW||PhD (Education), Faculty of Education and Arts, The University of Newcastle||Co-Supervisor|
|2014||PhD||An Investigation on Place of Culture in ELICOS Program in Australia||Education, The University of Newcastle||Co-Supervisor|
|2014||PhD||An Investigation on Place of Culture in ELICOS Program in Australia||PhD (Education), Faculty of Education and Arts, The University of Newcastle||Co-Supervisor|
|2011||PhD||Exploring Students' Experiences of English Medium Instruction in Vietnamese Universities||Education, The University of Newcastle||Co-Supervisor|
|Year||Level of Study||Research Title||Program||Supervisor Type|
|2017||PhD||Exploring Students' Experiences of English Medium Instruction in Vietnamese Universities||PhD (Education), Faculty of Education and Arts, The University of Newcastle||Co-Supervisor|
|2017||PhD||Investigating University Lecturers' Attitudes Towards Learner Autonomy in the EFL Context in Vietnam||PhD (Education), Faculty of Education and Arts, The University of Newcastle||Co-Supervisor|