By Xinhua Writers Guo Yina, Liu Shuai, Xia Lin
KENTUCKY, July 14 (Xinhua) -- Ben and Othniel Stockler, 20 and 17 years old, live in Kentucky in mid-western United States. Ben has been enrolled at the West Kentucky University, and Othniel at local high school. The brothers believe Mandarin-learning will help them a lot in their careers if they grasp one more language.
They also share a common pursuit: the beauty of Chinese language and culture.
"I choose Chinese originally because it was a challenge to me. The Chinese language seemed very difficult to learn at the beginning. However, I am pleased to find that it's not as hard as you think," said Ben.
Othniel echoed the view, saying that "I think learning new words is definitely the most difficult part about it, because I'm not very good at remembering vocabulary. There are times when I have to take a break as it gets really difficult. But I don't think I've ever wanted to stop learning Chinese."
Like most Americans, Ben and Othniel find it hard to learn Mandarin. What makes them different is that they have gone through the difficulties, and eventually discovered all the related fun and joy.
They can sing Chinese folk song and occasionally enjoy the hallucination induced to their taste buds by hot pot, a popular dish in China.
These are all the merriments arising out of their learning process of Mandarin.
"It has changed my mind and expanded my vision. I've learned different ways of thinking and to see things in a different way. There's a learning to see things from a less individualistic point of view," Ben told Xinhua.
PROUD FOR BEING ABLE TO SPEAK IN CHINESE
Ben and Othniel have been inspired to learn Mandarin by Li Xia from China's Qinghai Province.
She is a guest Chinese teacher at Othniel's middle school in Kentucky State. She has observed that learning Chinese language had become more and more popular among teenagers and even younger ones.
"At our school, 69 students learnt Mandarin in 2016, and 142 in 2018," said Li.
At Li's middle school, 95 percent of the Mandarin-learning students attended standardized Chinese test.
"I was surprised by their devotion to Chinese learning when I arrived here. They feel proud for being able to speak in Chinese, which is a very good phenomenon," Li added.
Meanwhile, at the Confucius Institute of the West Kentucky University, Mandarin learners increased by 10 folds in the past seven years. Some of them had started to learn Mandarin during middle school, or even earlier.
Institute director Pan Weiping has attributed this phenomenon to the rapid development of China's economy and influence over the years. Pan said China has become the second largest economy in the world while the U.S. still maintains the largest. The U.S. students understand if they can master more languages, it will be helpful for finding jobs in the future. "I think that's the main reason behind," said Pan.
DO AMERICAN THINGS IN AMERICAN WAY
Mandarin teaching and learning pose challenges for both lecturers and students, said Pan, adding that the task can be well handled, if American things are done in the American way.
"We have encountered with some challenges. At first we offered free class, but were suspected of underlain motivations. It is a common wisdom in the U.S. that there is no free lunch in the world. So we've learnt to do the American things in the American way. Now, American students can choose Mandarin classes at almost every school with such a curriculum,"said the director.
Repeated training of teachers is another recipe for the success of the institute, and lecturers are tailored to suit each specific class.
"The teaching quality is very important. After being trained for two weeks in July, lecturers will return to their schools. At the end of September, they will get back to be retrained over the problems they found during the past two months. They should teach their students in the American way. In January, the training will start again," said Pan.
Cultural exchange is also highlighted at the institute, thanks to the principal of the university who allowed the first floor of library to be transformed into an exhibition center.
Each time a student walks in, it always takes him 30 seconds or even 5 minutes to feel the Chinese elements exhibited here. As days goes on, they know more and more about China.
Either the university or the high school provides quality service for Mandarin-learning students, Ben and Othniel are fortunate to be the tide riders, though they have not yet totally recognized the fact.
"I repeatedly remind my students that global perspective must be maintained and diversity respected," said Li.
One day, when kids like Othniel can finally benefit from his linguistic advantages, he will say it is truly worthy to master a foreign language, especially Mandarin, since very young, Li hoped. Enditem (Amanda Zhang contributed to the writing)