Chicago students embrace China's rich language, culture at Confucius Institute

13:14, January 16, 2011      

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Although learning Chinese may be a real challenge to many Westerners, more than 12,000 Chicago public school students are not only enjoying studying the language, but embracing the rich Chinese culture as well.

Walking into the Confucius Institute in Chicago (CIC), located inside the Walter Payton College Preparatory High School, one can't help but feel the richness of the Chinese culture. The walls are decorated with colorful Chinese art pieces such as kites, paintings, and calligraphy. The bookshelves are filled with Chinese books and multimedia materials.

Stepping into the Chinese II classroom, one feels the extraordinary dynamics and focused enthusiasm of students learning Chinese: some are reading Chinese loudly after their teacher while others are writing the Chinese characters quickly, correctly and neatly.

Morgan Holmes, a sophomore currently enrolled in Chinese II classes, gave a brief self introduction in Chinese. "My Chinese name is Han Meimei which means beautiful. I have a mom, dad, and a younger sister at home. I live in Chicago."

When asked why she came to study Chinese, Holmes said: "I have always liked the Chinese television shows but never understood them, so I think this will be fun. My teacher is very nice and helpful. We go to Chinatown and celebrate the Chinese New Year, and now we are learning how to order Chinese food on the phone."

Holmes is planning to continue to learn Chinese at college because she thinks it will definitely help her career in the future. "If I want to be a doctor or business person and go to China, it will be helpful. My parents are very supportive, too."

Anthony Mei is of Chinese origin. "My parents can speak Chinese but I can only speak a little. Learning Chinese at school helps my mind to adapt to the world. Of course, it will also help me in my career because I can communicate with more people," said the 15-year-old freshman.

In May 2006, the CIC opened at Payton as a Chinese language and cultural education center. It is a partnership between the Chicago Public Schools Office of Language and Cultural Education and the China National Office for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language.

"Chicago Public Schools World Languages Program began in 1999 with only three schools teaching Chinese. Currently, 42 schools teach Chinese, including 25 elementary schools and 17 high schools. With 58 fulltime teachers and 12,000 students in the program, Chicago Public Schools boasts the largest Chinese program in the United States and North America," said Yang Jingyue, director of the CIC.

"Chicago Mayor Richard Daley is a big supporter of the Chinese language program. His leadership is very important to our success," said Yang who started teaching Chinese in Chicago Public Schools more than 10 years ago.

The main task of the CIC is to coordinate the Chinese Language Program which is housed at 42 public schools in Chicago, providing professional development programs and workshops for Chinese teachers and maintaining the resource library for educators and students for all academic levels, according to Yang.

Apart from language teaching, the institute also features cultural programs.

"Language and culture cannot be separated," she said. "We invited Chinese artists to come to Chicago public schools to teach students Chinese arts, such as kite-making and paper-cutting. These are very popular cultural programs."

Payton Prep.'s world language programs not only offer Chinese, but also Japanese, Latin, French, and Spanish.

Ginger Lumpkin, Assistant Principal of Payton, believes that language should not be a barrier for students in communicating with one another.

"How phenomenal it is that at some point in their careers they have the opportunity to use their languages to foster relationships!" she exclaimed. "The youth are the ones who really are going to affect change, so it is important to have programs that foster leadership at school through languages."

Robert A. Davis, former CIC director who visited China 56 times since 1996, considered himself very lucky. "In my personal experience, China changed my life and always for the better, so I always feel grateful to China. The Confucius Institute is trying to give the opportunity to students to learn about China, an experience that can change their lives forever. It is going to open doors for them!"

Davis strongly believes that the program benefits both America and China. "This is a mutual exchange. The more each country knows about each other, the more good things can happen," he added.

Source: Xinhua
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