Students teach Chinese to high school juniors, seniors

This year, the Chinese Department offered a Mandarin elective to students at Mount Greylock Regional High School. Two students at the College taught the elective.

The program is the result of discussions that began in the summer of 2012 to bring a Chinese language program to Mount Greylock.  The Chinese Department was challenged to develop a course without the presence of a Chinese teacher at Mount Greylock, which did not have the resources to hire one. Thus, the Department opted to adapt its own Chinese 101 curriculum to Greylock and offer a class taught by Bianca Brown ’14 and Anthony Miceli ’14. Both students work through the Williams Center at Mount Greylock once every week or once every other week.

“High school is very different from college. The amount of contact hours each with a professor at the high school program is only two, compared to six hours at our programs here.  And the high school students only do five to eight hours of prep each week vs. the 12 to 16 at Williams,” Li Yu, associate professor of Chinese said, “But the students’ progress has been good and we’re able to cover about 65 percent of the 101 course.”

The program exclusively instructs students in Mandarin. The first three months of the class, which began this September, focused on speaking and listening, using textbooks from the Mandarin 101 course at the College. Professor Cornelius Kubler developed the curriculum. During that period, the students learned to use pinyin, the Romanized writing system of Mandarin. In December, the students began reading and writing with Chinese characters.  Students performed grammar drills, daily quizzes, exercises from the textbooks and conversational exercises.  Brown’s and Miceli’s role was to correct the students’ pronunciations and assign them grades.

“Our goal is not only to teach students a language that is considered hard to learn, but also to teach them how to learn a language,” Yu said. “I always say, even in our courses here, that the CD is your best teacher so that you can work on your speaking and accent. The problem with high school language programs is often that they do not focus enough on speaking and conversation. Students are only allowed to speak English during the last five or so minutes of class to ask questions.  Other than that, they are immersed in the language.”

Only three students are enrolled in the Mount Greylock program, but the Chinese department and the high school agreed to keep it small and selective for now. The pilot program is only open to juniors and seniors, but Yu believes the community is interested in expanding the school’s Chinese offerings. This would likely involve hiring a teacher. Yu believes that this curriculum will help students to have an easier transition to a college-level language course or even place out of it if they take the high school program for two years. Yu and the Department are considering making Skype tutoring available from professional teachers for students who wish to enroll in the program for a second year. Yu has selected two students to take over from Brown and Miceli, both seniors, next year.