RCS says ‘ni hao’ to Chinese language instruction

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published September 10, 2014

 Chinese language middle school teacher Yun Qin speaks with Van Hoosen Middle School seventh-graders.

Chinese language middle school teacher Yun Qin speaks with Van Hoosen Middle School seventh-graders.

Photo by Erin Sanchez

ROCHESTER — The start of the school year means new classrooms, new teachers and learning a new language for many students in the Rochester Community Schools district.

For the first time, the district is offering Chinese language instruction to students in elementary and middle school this year. The district has offered Chinese at the high school level for the past two years.

“Chinese is a very prominent language at the global level,” said Michael Behrmann, the executive director of elementary education at RCS. “It’s becoming one of the most important languages from a global perspective, considering that China is increasingly doing more and more business economically with the United States.”

Behrmann said RCS students in grades 1, 2 and 3 will receive 30 minutes per week of instruction, which will focus on cultural exposure, vocabulary and language concepts.

“In subsequent years, we hope to build upon that and add kindergarten and fourth and fifth grades, as well,” Behrmann said. “... We’re also, eventually, looking at adding Spanish to the elementary level. … But for this year, all 13 elementary schools have Chinese introduction in grades 1, 2 and 3. We’re not going to be teaching language proficiency in that amount of time; what we are doing is exposing students to language and culture with the hopes that they’ll want to go on further and explore languages and other cultures, and so forth. We think that is very important.”

Also new this year, seventh-graders will receive two weeks of Chinese language instruction as part of their current introduction to the world language course — which also includes three weeks of French, German and Spanish, as in previous years.

“Now they are being exposed to four languages, which we think is going to give students more choice and expose them to more languages that they can eventually choose from, when they take high school or eighth-grade language,” Berhmann said.

The Chinese language classes will be taught by the district’s Chinese language teacher, Yu-Ting Hung, as well as three Chinese teachers contracted from Michigan State University’s Confucius Institute, including Jing Bao, Yun Qin and Chang Liu.

Liu, who is teaching Chinese at Long Meadow, Hamlin, McGregor and Musson elementary schools this year, said the first couple weeks of instruction have been great.

“Both teachers and students are super nice here. I feel lucky and grateful to be able to work with them. There are still a lot of things I need to learn, and I will try my best to bring interesting Chinese classes to the kids,” she said in an email.

Liu said she believes it is essential to see and learn the world with broader vision and perception in the 21st century. 

“Just like strangers will not become friends until they start to talk with each other, sometimes different countries may have some misunderstandings with each other. We can clarify those misunderstandings if we know better about each other’s culture,” she said in an email. “Another thing is that Chinese language has a different language system compared to English, Spanish or other Indo-European languages. Chinese belongs to logogram language. It will be easier for kids to learn Chinese characters at a young age, because young kids have amazing and powerful imagination. They can easily memorize characters as symbols or even pictures. It is also easier for young kids to pick up or acquire the pronunciation.”

Chinese language instruction at RCS is an outgrowth of the district’s strategic plan, as part of the global awareness goal area. Behrmann said.

“This is a long-range strategic plan, 3-5 years out, so this is a starting ground for us this year. It’s the first step in achieving a long-range plan of comprehensive K-12 world language plan,” he explained.

Behrmann said exposing students to language at a young age is important because they retain language skills better than at older ages. District officials also hope that the addition of Chinese language instruction at younger grades will spark an interest in learning other languages.

“It is very important that all of our students graduate bilingual or multilingual. That is very important in terms of preparing our students for the global environment that they are going to be living in. Starting at a young age, we hope, exposes and excites students to learn world languages, even if they go on to learn another language, other than Chinese,” he said. “We are somewhat constrained by budget and resources, but as we continue to roll out our strategic plan, we hope that this becomes a priority, to really expand languages K-12 districtwide.”