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The class of Beginner's Chinese 1 listen to a lecture in Temp 10.

The class of Beginner's Chinese 1 listen to a lecture in Temp 10.

Brenda Gao

Brenda Gao

The class of Beginner's Chinese 1 listen to a lecture in Temp 10.

How to be more Asian

West recently started offering a Chinese class on campus, and people are taking it? You'll be surprised! Keep reading to learn more!

November 9, 2017

Waking up at the crack of dawn, high school students are taking the recently offered Beginner’s Chinese 1 here at West. A college class and a challenging course, students immerse themselves in the Chinese language and culture, delving into the most spoken language in the world.

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Amy Liao

Currently, the Iowa City Community School District offers Spanish, French, and German. However, due to low enrollment rates, German is being phased out. In order to continue to offer a diverse array of languages at West, the University of Iowa’s Confucius Institute stepped in, partnering with West High to provide an option for students to take Chinese. The course was first offered in the fall of 2016.

“There [were] Chinese high school kids who were interested in learning Chinese, but I was just thinking it was very inconvenient for them to travel every day to the UI campus to take the class,” Chinese instructor Xi Ma said. Ma is the Confucius Institute’s Curriculum Coordinator and teaches Chinese at the University of Iowa and surrounding high schools. “So we always wanted to offer it on site at high school so we can benefit more learners. The school district was very supportive […] so we finally got it done. It took a little while but I’m glad we started to offer it.”

“It took a little while but I’m glad we started to offer it.”

— Xi Ma

As of now, Beginner’s Chinese 1, 2, 3, and 4 are offered at West and City High; however, it will soon be coming to Liberty High, presumably in the fall of 2018. By taking either one of the four classes, students earn a semester of college credit over a year of instruction. Beginner’s Chinese 1 is held on Tuesday and Thursday mornings in Temp 10.

“We had a very good response the first year. I believe we had 17 students do it.” West High Principal Dr. Gregg Shoultz said. There were so many applicants that the school administration decided to offer both Beginner’s Chinese 1 and Beginner’s Chinese 2 this year. Shoultz believes that taking higher level classes engages students’ readiness for university. “We try to get all students, before they leave West High, to have an experience of a college-level class,” Shoultz said.

One student taking Chinese is Diego Rivera 19’. Already being a fluent Spanish speaker, Rivera found AP Spanish to be a breeze. “It’s like learning English again.” He found out about Beginner’s Chinese from his friend, and decided he was up for the challenge. He joined Beginner’s Chinese 1 this year.

Rivera has major ambitions for his future. He plans to minor in Chinese then eventually study abroad in China. He mentions the benefits of speaking a foreign language in any field of work.

“If I’m able to communicate with people in their language, they’ll be a lot more comfortable with me […] especially with people that are more traditional. If you give them that confidence [that says], ‘Hey, I speak your language, I understand you,” it’s a lot more comforting,” Rivera said.

While the class is open to most students, few take it.

“I think the reason that not many people take [Chinese] is because a lot of people who are taking [a foreign language] in high school are taking it to meet the requirement, not necessarily because they want to learn another language,” Rivera said.

It might also be due to poor advertising. Both Rivera and classmate Wala Siddig ‘18 found out about the class from close friends. The course isn’t widely publicized, but they agree it should be. Rivera took AP Spanish as filler for his language requirement. However, if he’d known that Chinese was being offered, he would not have made that decision. “I would have taken [Chinese] freshman year. Absolutely. Honestly, I don’t think I would’ve even taken Spanish. It was useless for me,” Rivera said.

Taking the Chinese course certainly benefits in many ways. Of course, you would learn to speak a language that doesn’t use the Roman alphabet (which is pretty cool by itself), but you’d also be open to more career opportunities. “I’ve seen my former students graduate with a Chinese minor or major. That definitely gives them some certain advantages when they need to find a job,” Ma said.

Not only are there long-term benefits, but there are many short-term ones as well.

“The other day I was at the restaurant ‘I Love Pho’. I ordered in Chinese, I paid in Chinese, and [the waitress] was like, ‘Yeah, it was good’,” Rivera said. He is often found applying what he learns in class to the outside world, and wants to expand his knowledge of the Chinese language. “I sort of wish we had [Chinese] every day. I’d be learning a lot more,” he said. 

“I sort of wish we had [Chinese] every day.”

— Diego Rivera 19'

Besides the language itself, everyone agrees on the importance of learning a foreign culture.

“It’s a fascinating place with thousands of years of history, and it’s recorded history,” Shoultz said. “It’s one that we don’t emphasize a lot in the American curriculum, but it certainly deserves to have a place.”

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