With images of turkeys and pumpkin pies projected on the screen behind them, the Class 9 students spent a late-November morning sharing their own traditions. However, these students weren’t chatting with friends about the upcoming holiday; they were learning Chinese.
In World Language teacher Lin Wang’s Chinese II class, the students are introduced to – and ultimately master – sophisticated grammar and vocabulary through myriad techniques that not only reinforce spelling and pronunciation but also contrast Chinese customs with American culture.
For example, the students took turns discussing their own holiday rituals, like visiting relatives and getting up early to watch the annual Thanksgiving Day parade. The scholars spoke exclusively in Chinese, while Mr. Wang gently corrected any mispronunciations. Concurrently, the class was introduced to the Moon Festival, also known as the Mid-Autumn Festival, which is one of China’s most revered holidays.
Next, with the help of pink index cards on which various Chinese characters were written and displayed, the students practiced saying them out loud. Repeating after Mr. Wang, they finessed their pronunciations until the words eventually rolled off their tongues with relative ease. They also practiced reading complex Chinese characters with the help of another set of annotated index cards and Mr. Wang’s guidance.
The characters Mr. Wang presented to his students during this particular class centered on Chinese taboos, providing another glimpse into age-old traditions that have shaped that country. Among other beliefs, he explained that the word for “umbrella” sounds similar to the word for “split,” although the tone differs. As a result, he noted that “in China we do not give an umbrella as a gift between boyfriends and girlfriends” because it is considered a bad omen.
As the class changed gears once again for another mini-lesson, the students’ smiles suggested they were excited about this next activity, known as “music-assisted learning.” Indeed, after Mr. Wang distributed lyrics and pulled out his harmonica, a familiar tune filled the classroom. It was “Hey Jude,” the third Beatles song this class has learned thus far. With Mr. Wang’s harmonica accompaniment, they performed a lively Chinese rendition of this beloved song, alternating between Chinese and English verses.
It is a point of considerable pride for Mr. Wang to successfully reinterpret well-known Western songs with Chinese lyrics. As his students are well aware, he has a special fondness for the Beatles and even met Paul McCartney when Mr. McCartney attended past Middle School holiday concerts to see a family member. Recalling this happily, he showed the students a photograph pinned to his classroom’s bulletin board of him posing with Mr. McCartney.
With this far-reaching and lively class, these Class 9 students are well on their way to becoming skilled multi-lingual communicators, joining 16 percent of the world’s population.
“It’s a helpful and interesting language to learn,” remarked a student, who has been studying this language since Class 6. Added her classmate, “I like that the class is very engaging and that we learn about the Chinese culture too. I definitely plan to stay in Chinese throughout Upper School.”