Archive for Thursday, January 19, 2006

Lansing exchange group picks up Chinese lesssons

January 19, 2006

With only eight more Chinese lessons scheduled, the eight Lansing High School students and three teachers participating in an exchange program with a school in China have a lot to learn before they travel.

The students and teachers, who will participate in an exchange with Kaifeng No. 5 Middle School March 17-29, must take 24 hours of Mandarin Chinese lessons before they make the trip. So far, in four two-hour lessons since the beginning of this month, they have learned to say and write the numbers 1-10, months, days and family members.

Jennifer Simpson, a freshman going on the trip, said Chinese was proving confusing for her, especially because it is her first foreign language.

Simpson lived in Korea for two years with her military family, she said, but she hadn't learned much of the language there. However, she can see a big difference between Korean and Chinese: Korean characters are phonetic, representing sounds. Chinese characters, on the other hand, represent words.

"I don't like that they don't have a phonetic system," Simpson said.

Lindsey Piper, a senior participating in the exchange, said she had done well so far with memorizing characters, but she found it hard to keep up with the speaking.

Piper has taken two years of Spanish, but she's not counting on that to help her. She said it was "too early to tell" how much Chinese she'd be able to retain and understand on the trip.

"For me, it's just something new and exciting," she said.

Simpson and Piper are joined at their Chinese lessons by six other students who will make the trip to China with them in March and one student who hopes to go on a future exchange trip. Three teachers who will accompany the students to China and two other interested teachers also are attending the lessons.

Linda Leffler, an LHS language arts teacher who will travel to China in March, said she and the others would learn how to speak and have a "survival understanding of Chinese characters" by March.

The group uses textbooks and CDs supplied by the University of Kansas, which is providing a fellowship for the exchange program.

KU also provided the instructor for the course, Gary Hart, who teaches in Kansas City, Mo. He spent nine years living in East Asia, Leffler said, and since 2000 has taught "survival Chinese," mostly to parents who adopt children from China. Hart also has written two books about learning Chinese and studied at the Taipei Language Institute in Taiwan.

But not only does Hart have "really excellent credentials" to teach the class, Leffler said, he has a personal connection to Lansing - he is the father of two LHS graduates. Leffler said she appreciated that Hart was familiar with the community.

The group can't learn everything in just two hours a week, so Hart gives quizzes at each lesson and assigns out-of-class work, too.

"Oh my, yes, there is homework," Leffler said.

Leffler said she thought the class was on a path to success.

"I'm very happy about what we've accomplished so far," she said. "I think we're on the right road, and everyone is working hard to do well."

Other preparations for the trip continue in addition to the language lessons. Leffler said all of the group members were in the process of getting their visas.

In February, they will attend an orientation at the KU Edwards Campus in Overland Park to learn more about what to expect on the trip. Soon, group members also will learn of their host family assignments, Leffler said.

When the Lansing delegation does go to China, they will travel in style - the group has received pledges from Ameriprise Financial, Inc., to purchase a gift for the Kaifeng school and matching jackets to wear during the trip, Leffler said.

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