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Say ni-hao to Mandarin classes

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By Chris Nguyen
Features Editor

Walking down the halls of the foreign language classrooms, there are bound to be a lot of “hola”s and “bonjour”s. Now, expect to hear some “ni hao”s as Coppell High School has added Mandarin Chinese to its foreign language curriculum.

The school has included the course to better suit the current landscape, in which China has rapidly risen into an economic world power.

“With the strategic planning, the district really pulled for languages to match the times,” Coppell High School foreign language head Holly Whiting said. “It does not mean that Chinese is better or worse than other languages, but Chinese has become much more important on the business side.”

The addition comes a year after New Tech High @ Coppell implemented its own Mandarin classes to its curriculum for much the same reason.

“One of the purposes we have is to move into the 21st century,” director of New Tech Tabitha Branum said. “We want to have the learners have the essential skills and help them in this flattened world.”

Furthermore, STARTALK, which is a presidential move to fund summer foreign language classes, provided classes in Chinese to students this past summer at CHS. The five-week program familiarized students with the basics of Mandarin and offered activities, such as skits, to engage students.

“I want to go to Shanghai for one year so I decided to take the class,” junior Anafer Barrera said. “Chinese is becoming how French was popular and important to know it. And I definitely learned a lot from it.”

At New Tech, the program went through a thorough development with the foreign language board, tailoring it to the school’s project-based learning.  Angelina Wu, who had already been hired as an Algebra I teacher, took on the position of teaching Mandarin I and II.

Wu dedicated herself to the task, executing, not merely classroom learning, but the addition of a Chinese club. Learners meet twice a week to learn the language and the culture, with activities ranging from lantern making to calligraphy.

After the success at New Tech, Wu hoped to have Chinese in the IB program; however, there was not enough time to include Chinese for the current year. Nonetheless. Wu found she would still be teaching at CHS for a new virtual learning class. With student interest, she was able to get a Chinese class off the ground, with a current enrollment of 25.

In the start of the school year, the classes focused heavily on culture in preparation for a presentation at the library-sponsored Festival of Nations. Throughout the year, students will continue to expand their knowledge of Chinese culture.

“Whether it is Spanish, French or Mandarin, it is important to understand the culture,” Branum said. “It helps students learn why things are said the way are spoken, why there are different dialects. Everything is put into perspective.”

After the Festival of Nations, students started learning the basics of Mandarin slowly from how to pronounce words and eventually connecting the word to the character representation.

“I am a foreigner,” Wu said.  “I didn’t know English well. I know how hard it is to learn a language. I still have an accent and my spelling really stinks. So I understand, and I break it down and give them more time to absorb it especially the Chinese tonal language. It takes time to get used to the sound and writing.”

So far, students have taken in many of the cultural lessens with an open mind.

“I want to go into engineering or archeology and there is a lot of culture that I have learned to help me if I go over to China,” freshman Ben Godwin said. “I’ll be able to communicate and not just sound like an idiot.”

As of now, only Mandarin I and II are offered at Coppell. However, there are many more plans to increase the ability for students to learn Mandarin and other languages.

“We are looking at different was of delivering foreign languages to students,” Whiting said. “[Wu] and I recently attended a Rosetta Stone meeting and want to have a variety of ways for students to learn and have their credit but not necessarily within a classroom.”

The Rosetta Stone program could open up the possibility of languages, including Hindi, without the need for the scarce amount of teachers for these less common languages.

For now, though, don’t be surprised to hear some more “ni hao”s in the halls in the coming years.

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Say ni-hao to Mandarin classes