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High school students learn Chinese language, culture

June 23, 2010

STARTALK, a Chinese language and culture camp, kicked off June 13 when close to 45 students descended upon ASU’s Barrett, The Honors College, to start their summer Chinese language and cultural studies.

High school students from across Arizona checked in on Sunday and started their 15-day adventure that will involve learning one of the most challenging languages for Americans to learn. They will learn how to write calligraphy using a specialized brush, tie Chinese knots and wrap Chinese dumplings, among other activities. Students are divided into three classes: students who have never learned Chinese, students who learned Chinese for one to two years and intermediate-level students.

The camp paired Chinese heritage learners, who are Chinese American high school students, with non-heritage students so both groups will benefit from the experience. For example, Emma McMahon, a Salpointe High student from Tucson, and Vivien Yang, a Mesquite High student from Gilbert, will be roommates who will be helping each other out during the camp.

McMahon said she plans to major in international relations in college. She also cited the importance of Arabic and Chinese globally as a reason that drew her to apply for the camp. She has been taking Spanish at her high school as well.

“It’s going to be fun,” she said, although she noted that “learning a new language is hard.”

Yang, who moved to the United States from China when she was 4, speaks Mandarin at home and attends a local Chinese school. She said she wants to improve her reading and writing skills. Yang said she has also started to learn some Korean.

“I want to be able to read a book in Chinese,” she said.

Mary Reed and Tom McMahon, McMahon’s parents, drove to Phoenix on Sunday to drop her off at ASU. Mary Reed said she hopes that McMahon can continue her Chinese studies at the Tucson Chinese Cultural Center once the camp is over.

“This is the closest to immersion we can get in Arizona,” Mary Reed said of Startalk.

Besides learning Chinese during the day, students also have bilingual resident advisers in the dorm who can help them with their Chinese homework during the evenings.

A federal Startalk grant sponsored these high school students. Both ASU’s Confucius Institute and the Chinese Language Flagship are supporters of Startalk. This is the second year ASU has facilitated the camp where 45 students were selected out of 90 applicants. The camp’s goals are to promote the learning of the Chinese language and culture and to have students in Arizona start learning Chinese at an earlier age and become part of the pipeline to the Collegiate Scholars and the Chinese Language Flagship programs (School of International Letters and Cultures) at ASU.

Ultimately, graduates of the Flagship program will be able to use their Chinese skills professionally.

Carter Pote, 16, a Corona del Sol High School student from Tempe, is learning Chinese for another purpose. Pote is one-quarter Chinese and would like to learn more about his heritage language.

“He thought it would be a good experience to learn about the language and culture," said Dan Pote, his father.
"He doesn’t know that much about it except 'gong hay fat choy' (a common Chinese New Year’s greeting in Cantonese).”

Irene Hsiao
(480) 727-0879
ASU Chinese Language Flagship Program