by Sarah Einselen
At Logansport High School, 47 students are enrolled in Chinese language classes — and are putting together complete sentences before their first semester is over.
One class of students paired off Thursday to practice using 15 new vocabulary words used to describe members of a family, their age and profession. One student in each pair slowly described a simple family tree, in Chinese, for the other student to draw, occasionally calling on instructor Yi-Chun Lin with the Chinese word for teacher, “lao shi,” to ask a question.
They’re learning both spoken and written Chinese, said Lin, who teaches the class to use simplified Chinese characters, a modern form of writing Chinese that has become the official form in mainland China.
But while the students are becoming literate in a form of writing that doesn’t use the Roman alphabet, they still struggle to think of the characters as words or word segments.
“The last part looks like a banana peel,” said one student while completing an assignment.
Lin began teaching three classes of first-level Chinese this semester after the Logansport school board voted this spring to cut its German program in favor of adding Mandarin Chinese.
For the family vocabulary unit, she spent one week introducing the written forms and the following week working on their use in spoken Chinese.
“I’m impressed by some of the students,” said Lin. They have learned enough about Chinese grammar to notice similarities to English grammar and invent new sentences in Chinese based on similar structures in English, she explained.
“Right now the sentences are still short,” Lin added — translating to “The mother is 47,” or something similar. “If they get too long and complicated, maybe it would be different.”
The students learning Chinese make up about one-tenth of the total number of students enrolled in language classes, according to LHS office staff. A total of 447 students are taking traditional classes in Spanish, French and Chinese and studying German through an online course.
More than half — 264 students — are studying Spanish, but when expected enrollment for the Chinese classes was announced in April, principal Matt Jones said he was pleased with students’ response to the new offering.
A small number of students continued studying German via online courses.
Back in the classroom, Lin said she thought her students were brave to try learning Chinese and noted she’d had a good response from parents.
“I think the parents are supportive,” she said, based on conversations during the school’s fall open house and over the phone.
Two 14-year-old freshmen said they have enjoyed studying Chinese, a subject they had no experience in before this fall.
“It’s a great class,” said Fabian Carrasquillo, who wants to pursue a field in medicine after graduating. “I’m learning a lot. It’s good to learn a new language to expand your choices later on in life.”
In the meantime, he’s used his newfound Chinese abilities to help translate basic information at a school supply drive his sister volunteered with. He and other students also try out their Chinese at Asian restaurants when they have the chance.
Zach Overway, who worked with Carrasquillo on the family tree assignment Thursday, said Lin has succeeded in making the complex language understandable.
“I’ve already been able to form complete sentences and thoughts in Chinese,” said Overway.
He wants to become an engineer when he grows up, he said. But he’s studying Chinese for other reasons, too.
“It sounded interesting, and China is a growing global power,” Overway explained. “You’ll need to know a lot of Chinese to do business.”
Sarah Einselen is news editor for the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 574-732-5151.