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Students, faculty share experiences with Mandarin Chinese course

Academics Writer

Published: Thursday, October 18, 2012

Updated: Thursday, October 18, 2012 13:10

This semester, the University of Northern Iowa began offering two three-credit co-requisite Mandarin Chinese courses. After half a semester of the courses, students enrolled in and faculty involved with the new Mandarin Chinese courses shared their experience with the courses and how the courses have affected them.

Julie Husband, interim head of the department of languages and literatures — which is the department offering the courses — said she was struck by the engagement and accomplishment of the students.

According to Husband, the class atmosphere is exceptionally relaxed yet simultaneously productive.

Chang-Li Huang, whom Husband identified as an “exceptional teacher,” instructs the course and said every student has displayed a strong motivation, need and interest in learning Chinese.

“Some of them studied and worked in China before and are planning to study and work in China again in the near future, so this course serves them as a solid foundation and preparation,” said Huang, a visiting faculty member from National Taiwan Normal University.  “The rest of the students are interested in the Chinese language and the affairs related to China and are taking the course for personal enrichment and to broaden their horizon.”
Huang said having 12 students in the class is the perfect number for a language class in that everyone can have opportunities to interact with the instructor and their classmates.

Some students had experienced challenges in learning the Chinese characters because they are entirely different from the Roman alphabet, so Huang invited Allison Alstatt, an assistant professor in the UNI School of Music, to share her experience learning Chinese and offer some advice to the class.

Huang said he also worked with the Office of International Students in order to improve the listening and speaking ability of his students. He connected his students with those from China and Taiwan to develop an exchange program.

“Each student can sharpen their language skills mutually and experience different culture(s) from each other,” Huang said.  “In addition, the Chinese language films are shown in the class (so) that the students can have more perspectives on the Chinese language and culture.”
Huang said due to the importance of the Chinese speaking world and its impact on global culture, community, economy and politics, “there seems to be no doubt that a need to offer the Chinese language as a tool for communication (exists).”

“Understanding the knowledge of one more language other than English can definitely make you more competitive in the job market and also open a new window for you into a different world,” Huang said.

Spencer Ross, a senior marketing major, said his experience has been very positive. Ross said he is taking the class now so he can be proficient when he goes to China next semester. He hopes to be fluent.

“I like that we’re not only learning the language, but also that we’re learning the characters and symbols,” Ross said. “I used to see hieroglyphics, but now I can read some of the words and that is a very cool feeling.”
Josh Dunnick, a senior exercise science major, said he wanted to take the course because it was the “harder road.” He also enjoys the ability to read people’s tattoos written in Chinese.

Bob Overton, a graduate student in the Teaching English to Students of Other Languages (TESOL) program, was in China for the past two years and said he plans to go back but wanted to first improve his Chinese, which the class has helped him do.

Colin Johnson, a sophomore TESOL major, said he’s had some experience with martial arts and it’s great to learn what some of the terminology actually means. His favorite part is when his friends who can speak Chinese say something to each other and he understands it.

“I think (the course) is a great experience for the students,” Julie Husband said.  “I would be thrilled if we could offer Chinese permanently at UNI.”

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