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STARTALK camp gives students opportunity to learn Chinese language, culture

June 20, 2011

Laughter fills the air as students learned Chinese landscape art and calligraphy in their latest Chinese cultural class at Arizona State University, as a part of the STARTALK summer camp.

Fongfong Ding, one of the two cultural instructors, strides to the front pointing to various paintings of her own, explaining with a giggle that she’s a first-time artist as well. “If I can do it, you can do it,” she says, to the welcome laughter of her students.

The excitement in the air is high as brushes and ink splatter over pages and occasionally, faces. After a week at the camp, the Chinese arts class is only one more in a string of classes, and students note as much as they reminisce over their favorite classes.

Tiffany Lam of Liberty High School smiles before saying, “I like all culture classes. Especially the knotting, even though no one else does.” To which her table partner, BASIS Tucson student Amaris Henry answers, “Hey, me too!”

On the other hand, Sydney Jackson, who attends BASIS with Amaris, smiles as she explains, “[my favorite class is] probably the fish. Mostly thanks to the knotty, tassel thing.”

Terra Gifft, a sophomore this coming fall at Willow Canyon High School disagrees, “I like making dumplings.”

Still other students argue over what they like about camp best.

Rebecca Woo, a high school student from Sandra Day O’Connor, notes the Kung Fu class as her favorite cultural activity, “I like learning sparring techniques.”

Her table partner Yosef Jacobsen of BASIS Tucson laughs as he informs us of her motivation, “She’s too weak.”

For some students, however, the intensive but warm approach to language acquisition and familiarity of people in the camp are the biggest key aspects.

Foothills Academy student Emma-li Thompson grinned widely as she said, “I like having live teachers.” And when pressed, continued, “I actually use Rosetta Stone to learn Chinese. It’s bad for me [for learning purposes]. But here at camp, everyone [collectively] has been nicer to me than anyone at my school all year.”

The familiarity students have with each other is indeed fairly evident as the day went on. Despite being split into three major levels of language acquisition, students have been joining up to do gym activities together, watching Twilight in Chinese dub and tutoring each other in Chinese, to name a few.

Similar to the previous two years, STARTALK has split students according to three main levels of linguistic strength: beginners, for those who have very little to no concept of Mandarin; intermediate for students who have taken one to two years of Mandarin; and finally the advanced level, which is most often comprised of heritage speakers or students who have had extended years of experience in the language.

Throughout the two weeks, students have been exposed to various cultural classes in the form of Chinese knotting, making dumplings, visiting the Phoenix Chinese Cultural Center, eating dim sum, cutting Chinese fish, learning martial arts and of course, picking up calligraphy and Chinese landscape art.

Various activities and projects are put on display when the students put their skills to the test on Graduation Day, June 19.

“Our STARTALK Chinese language programs in the past two years have been very successful,” says Xia Zhang, ASU STARTALK program director reflects. “I have all the confidence that 2011 will be even better. I hope that after this program, students will not only bring back home with newly learnt and improved Chinese language skills but also a wonderful memory of their first-time college life experience.”

And that does sincerely seem to be represented in the students as they tackle the second week of classes here at camp.

Written by Kamla Tung, Communications & Chinese Language Flagship B.A.