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Inside the Classroom - Chinese 101

By Nate Harling

The classroom can be a dismal place on a rainy Tuesday morning. For some students, hitting the snooze button may sound more appealing than walking across campus in the rain at 9 a.m. to attend class in the same place they do most of the week. Knowing this, Wei Jiang, a senior lecturer of Chinese studies at the University of Kentucky, decided to mix things up on a Tuesday this fall, opting to have her Chinese 101 class convene in Kennedy Book Store.

While the outing may be a great way to imbibe some energy into a morning class, it is also a part of Jiang’s teaching philosophy.

“Language is alive, and leaving the classroom allows students to learn the language more organically as they learn to identify objects, colors and other staples of an introductory language course through experience,” she said.

Jiang facilitated this by giving the students an assignment in which they identify objects around the store using Chinese and find objects that fit various descriptors, written in Chinese, such as color, shape and size.  She believes this fits into one of her core principles as a language instructor: that the best way to learn a language is by using it. Even though almost all of the students in her 101 class are new to Chinese, she believes that hearing and communicating in the language as much as possible makes for quicker and better understanding. She will often accompany her words with gestures so that the class can understand what she is saying and learn the words without using English.

Belinda Cheng, a first-year public health major from Richmond, Kentucky, said she wants to learn Chinese in order to communicate better with her family.

“I come from a Chinese family, but never learned to speak the language while growing up,” Cheng said. “I would like to visit my extended family in China with a better understanding of the language so I can get to know them on a deeper level.”

Brianna Ritchison, a sophomore biology major from Campbellsville, Kentucky, wants to learn Chinese in order to expand her cultural horizons.

“Americans are often very absorbed in their own culture and often don’t bother to learn a second language,” Ritchison said. “I want to learn Chinese so that I can interact with a culture that is different from the one I grew up with and it will give me a broader perspective.”

As for Jiang, while she is sure that the Chinese language will enrich the lives of all of her students on a personal level, she is excited for their developing language skills to connect the UK community.

“There are many students of Chinese origin at UK and introducing more people to the language will help to build more bonds between Chinese and American students, enriching the entire UK community,” she said.

Jiang plans to continue to facilitate these connections and the education of her students by using class sessions to also teach students about Chinese culture. She plans to conduct more meetings outside of the classroom, including an end-of-the-semester trip to a Chinese restaurant where the students will order and converse exclusively in Chinese.