The University of Iowa

Confucius Institute Offers Family Mandarin Chinese Classes

July 30th, 2009

By Ashton Shurson

Anya Drack, 6, runs into her Mandarin Chinese class on a Saturday afternoon this past spring and immediately approaches her instructor, Fan Youxin. The two start playing a patty-cakes game reviewing Chinese numbers. Drack’s excitement comes after six weeks of attending the UI Confucius Institute’s Family Mandarin Chinese Classes for elementary students and their parents.

Though the institute has offered community classes since the fall of 2006, the family classes are the newest addition and began in September 2008. “Parents have a lot of influence and it’s a way for parents to be more involved,” said Rebecca Kessler, administrative assistant for the Confucius Institute.

Kessler said that the idea had been in the works for about a year. The institute had done other classes geared toward children, but the concept of adding parents is what makes these classes unique. Everything came together in the fall of 2008. Since the start of the program, enrollment has remained around a dozen kids and about the same number of parents per session (there are two sessions per semester). Each class is divided into two parts – review and new material. The students cover greetings, colors, counting, animals, food, clothes, the home, and more. Instructors also incorporate art, music, dance, and food into the learning.

The classes are always offered to the general public, but many of the students in the class have been adopted from China and their parents want them to stay connected to their heritages. “It’s a really nice opportunity for these children,” Kessler said. “It’s a connection with the culture left behind in China.”

Arlene Drack, a doctor in the UI Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, adopted Anya from China and recently moved to Iowa City from Denver. The Drack’s have been involved with organizations for families with adopted Chinese children since Anya was three. Arlene Drack said she searched online for “families with children from China” and found the UI’s family class. “I really like the family format,” she said. “It’s a good idea to teach her about China, and Chinese is such an important language.”
The two practice at home and Anya will often spontaneously start using words she learned in class.

“We’ll continue this as long as she’ll let me, but she loves it,” Arlene Drack said. “It gives her an advantage of knowing Chinese if she ever wants to study [in China].”

Aileen Swenson enrolled her two daughters, Calla, 5, and Mirra, 4, in both the fall and spring classes. Swenson also adopted both girls from China. “We love it,” Swenson said, who previously took Chinese classes with her daughters. “We were anxious to get back in class.”

While the class has benefited many family relationships, some say that learning Mandarin Chinese is important on an economic and global level. “We see the value of Chinese and in the coming years it’s going to be very important,” Kessler said. She added that since it is the most widely spoken language in the world, it is a great language to learn if you are going into a field like business, economics, or international or global studies.

Youxin, who taught four Chinese classes this past spring, said UI students from China comprise the largest group of international students at the UI. Youxin said he recognizes the opportunities the class provides for families and local community members, but added that the teaching also fits perfectly into his professional plans. Since the start of the UI’s Confucius Institute in 2006, Hanban (the Chinese organization that establishes Confucius Institutes across the globe) has sent two PhD students each year from East China Normal University in Shanghai (the UI institute’s partner institution) to Iowa to teach Mandarin Chinese. Youxin – who majors in teaching Chinese as a foreign language – arrived in Iowa City in August 2008 along with Miao Wang, the institute’s second instructor. “It’s a big chance for doctoral students to have oversea experience and it’s a good way to teach Chinese as a foreign language,” Youxin said. “It’s very important to me.” He added the program gives him the opportunity to communicate with American families and children.

Youxin also taught community classes (in Iowa City and the Quad Cities) with ages ranging from junior high to senior citizens and for-credit classes taught through the UI’s department of Asian & Slavic Languages & Literatures. The institute would like to develop partnerships with Iowa corporations that do business with and in China. Kessler believes there is a need for employees of those businesses to learn Mandarin Chinese (even if just the basics) and also about Chinese business culture. Though there are different classes and teaching formats, the goal of the learning experience remains the same – becoming familiar with China and Chinese culture. “It’s a language that benefits people,” Kessler said. “And it’s only going to get more important.”

This entry was postedon Friday, July 31st, 2009 at 6:09 pm

2 Responses to “Confucius Institute Offers Family Mandarin Chinese Classes”

  1. Otto says:
    September 14, 2009 at 12:33 pm

    My instructor, referenced in the article, Miao Wang, was really excellent. Having taken two other Confucius Institute Classes before, I welcomed Ms Wang’s leadership in providing practical application of the language, enhanced by her many cultural notes. She was sensitive to the difficulty Westerners encounter while studying Mandarin Chinese. My other instructors were Xinwei Xu and Yongsheng Chen; they all have one thing in common: They were academically well trained, and worked us hard without waste of time. They provided us with plenty of homework and expected us to come to class well prepared. As an advanced senior citizen they drilled me even harder,reflecting Chinese culture which says that older people know more. China shoould be proud of these instructors, and the The Confucius Institute and the University of Iowa should be proud of the high quality of instruction they provide.

  2. mandarin school says:
    March 18, 2010 at 6:48 am

    Can you provide more information on this? take care