Stu­dents thrive on Man­darin learn­ing at Chicago’s top high school

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - LIFE -

Up­per school­ers at the Wal­ter Pay­ton Col­lege Prepara­tory High School like to warm up their get-to­geth­ers with a ren­di­tion of Jas­mine, the clas­sic Chi­nese folk song that US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s grand­daugh­ter per­formed months ago dur­ing her visit to the Chi­nese Em­bassy in Wash­ing­ton.

“Chi­nese is one of the most widely used lan­guage in the world. So I think learn­ing it is su­per im­por­tant, be­cause so many dif­fer­ent peo­ple speak it,” He­len, a Pay­ton en­rollee, told Xin­hua in a re­cent in­ter­view.

Xu Qun, who came from China for her Man­darin-teach­ing job at Pay­ton, has no­ticed for a long time the trendy choice among Amer­i­can chil­dren, say­ing that “I think a lot of chil­dren in the US are very young when they start learn­ing Chi­nese. Some par­ents think Chi­nese is so im­por­tant that they hire a Chi­ne­ses­peak­ing nanny to look af­ter their chil­dren.”

Chi­nese learn­ing highly val­ued

Founded in 2000, Pay­ton is now one of the best pub­lic high schools in Chicago.

As one of the nine “se­lec­tive en­roll­ment” high schools in the city, it has prided it­self on highly qual­i­fied learn­ers who value Chi­nese lessons a lot.

“I per­son­ally find learn­ing other lan­guages very in­ter­est­ing, which is why I have taken two dif­fer­ent cour­ses of them. So I think tak­ing most of the lan­guages, like Chi­nese es­pe­cially, maybe help me with ca­reer in some type of for­eign lan­guage,” said He­len.

In 2006, Pay­ton joined hands with East China Nor­mal Univer­sity in Shang­hai to co-found the Con­fu­cius In­sti­tute, which was then the only one of its kind at over­seas se­condary school in the world.

Stu­dents met their chal­lenges as well as found op­por­tu­ni­ties at the in­sti­tute.

“The most dif­fi­cult thing I find per­son­ally is the tone marks. I feel like I don’t pro­nounce tone marks cor­rectly at times,” said Ernest Rionaula.

Kaylee Zilinger echoed the views, say­ing “prob­a­bly be­cause as an

Chi­nese is one of the most widely used lan­guage in the world. So I think learn­ing it is su­per im­por­tant, be­cause so many dif­fer­ent peo­ple speak it.”

English speaker, how the tonal­ity works doesn’t re­ally mat­ter. It is just like to show the emo­tion. But in Man­darin it can change the en­tire mean­ing of a word. So I have to be care­ful when I speak the tones.”

Di­verse, but with a com­mon goal

At Pay­ton, 30 to 40 per­cent of stu­dents are white, 20 per­cent Asian and 20 to 30 per­cent Lati­nos. De­spite the di­ver­sity, their love for Man­darin is com­mon and strong. Pay­ton, as well as its Con­fu­cius In­sti­tute, is where their am­bi­tion blos­soms over Chi­nese learn­ing.

“I think I even want to have a dou­ble ma­jor with Man­darin be­ing one of my ma­jors, be­cause I just love learn­ing Man­darin so much. Then I think it will help me to com­mu­ni­cate a lot when I be­come a doc­tor,” said Zilinger.

“So it is re­ally chal­leng­ing for me, but I found it re­ally fas­ci­nat­ing for me to learn, like when you learn it you can also learn about the cul­ture. Ms. Xu Qun teaches us a lot about the cul­ture, which is also so dif­fer­ent from English, which I found so in­ter­est­ing as well,” He­len told Xin­hua.

“I re­ally be­came in­ter­ested in tra­di­tional Chi­nese dance, maybe kind of want to join my school’s Chi­nese tra­di­tional dance club and hope­fully get bet­ter at danc­ing,” added Zilinger.

Many Pay­ton chil­dren started learn­ing Chi­nese at a very young age, and later de­vel­oped their in­ter­ests in the ori­en­tal coun­try.

“This lit­tle child I see, for ex­am­ple, at the age of five be­gan to take Chi­nese class. For chil­dren like him, their pro­nun­ci­a­tion and their love of Chi­nese learn­ing were im­planted into their grow­ing up from the be­gin­ning,” said Xu.

Pay­ton of­fers French, Span­ish and Chi­nese as op­tions for for­eign lan­guage cour­ses. Kids are sup­posed to have two out of the three.

“Many of the stu­dents have Chi­nese as their first choice. They had in­cen­tive to learn it,” said Xu.

“I used to teach K-8 grade, a to­tal of nine dif­fer­ent lev­els of chil­dren. Ev­ery age I have ob­served. Some of the stu­dents have been learn­ing with me for a long time. Af­ter nine years of learn­ing, they usu­ally go to col­lege and con­tinue to learn Chi­nese.” she added.

Lin­guis­tic spe­cialty fu­els am­bi­tion

Strong lin­guis­tic abil­ity helps im­prove their em­ploy­ment chance, es­pe­cially in the era that China has bur­geoned as an in­flu­en­tial global mar­ket.

All Chi­nese learn­ers at Pay­ton are clear with such a re­al­ity, and do not want to miss a thing.

“In the fu­ture, I mean, it is one of the most rapidly grow­ing lan­guages in the busi­ness world. Like that, it is one of the most rapidly grow­ing lan­guage as there is. It is com­ing up on English, like in the busi­ness world,” said Rionaula.

“It is the fact that I can com­mu­ni­cate with a bil­lion more peo­ple, or the rich cul­ture that comes with the lan­guage. But I’ve al­ways wanted to learn Chi­nese and I am glad to have the op­por­tu­nity to,” said Zilinger.

“I haven’t de­cided be­tween the ca­reer of law and the ca­reer of teach­ing. So ei­ther way, there are many dif­fer­ent cul­tures and many dif­fer­ent peo­ple com­ing from many dif­fer­ent places. If I can teach what I know, I mean, I can use it (Chi­nese) in my busi­ness, and I can use it in my set­ting,” added Rionaula.

He­len, Wal­ter Pay­ton Col­lege Prepara­tory High School en­rollee

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