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The United States’ “Mandarin moment”

November 28, 2014

Mandarin’s moment

Updated: 2014-11-28 11:48

By William Hennelly(China Daily USA)

 

Mandarin's moment

Zhang Shanshan teaches Kalen McBrien, 5, basic Mandarin vocabulary about colors and fruits at the Hudson Way Immersion School. Photos by Lu Huiquan / For China Daily

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg addressed a Beijing audience in Mandarin last month. He has been studying a language spoken by 1.3 billion Chinese, and he’s not alone. The study of Mandarin in the US is booming, WILLIAM HENNELLY reports from New York.

The pupils in teacher Zhang Shanshan’s class at the Hudson Way Immersion School were asked what they needed to do to get more smiley faces on an assignment.

“Ting lao shi (listen to the teacher),” the mostly 4- to 5-year-olds answered uniformly in Mandarin with hardly any foreign accent.

Soon the class began to get noisy. Sensing this, the teacher asked if she should erase some smiley faces off the blackboard, making the lesson longer.

“Bu” (no), the children replied.

“When I first taught this class, they didn’t understand what the Chinese storybook was about,” Zhang said. “But after two or three months, they can read many of the characters in it.”

“By the time they are 9 or 10, if they turn their backs, you can’t tell” whether they are native Chinese or not when speaking, said Elizabeth Willaum, a veteran language-immersion expert and director of Hudson Way. “Learning Chinese isn’t just about marketability,” she said. “When you learn a language, the culture opens to you.”

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