Feature:Inheritance, Future and Responsibility — Approaching the Confucius institute in Chicago

[Source]    xinhuanet.com [Time]    2019-10-02 10:23:22 

“My lifelong cause is teaching Chinese, spreading culture and promote China-US people-to-people and cultural exchanges.” Yang Jingyue, Director of the Confucius Institute in Chicago, told the journalist.

With the approaching of global “Confucius Institute Day”, the journalist from Xinhua News Agency went to the Confucius institute in Chicago, which is known as the “pioneer of Chinese teaching in the United States”. By entering into the Institute, the journalist experienced continuing “Chinese craze” the Chicago public school district and explored the reasons behind it.

Confucius Institute in Junior High

Located at north Chicago, Walter Payton College Preparatory High School is the top national high school in the United States, giving weight to multicultural education. It began to open Chinese language classes in 1999. In 2006, the Chicago public school district, in collaboration with East China Normal University, established the first Confucius Institute in the United States — the Confucius Institute in Chicago, at Walter Payton College Preparatory High School.

The culture teaching center of the Confucius Institute is located on the first floor of the main building of Walter Payton College Preparatory High School. Opening the door, you will see rows of bookshelves filled with Chinese books and audio-visual products, folding fans, Peking Opera masks, lanterns and other exquisite decorations, as well as handicrafts made by the inheritors of China’s intangible cultural heritage. The room of more than 100 square meters is permeated with thick Chinese culture atmosphere.

Across the wall, a lively Chinese class is taking place. 18 students with different skin colors were practicing listening, speaking, reading and writing in groups. In order to help the students grasp the “fourth tone” in Chinese, which is relatively difficult for the majority of foreign learners, Chinese teacher Xu Qun asked them to imitate the corresponding movements according to the tone. Hence, students have the command of knowledge through funny body language and relaxed learning atmosphere.

“Our moon must be round, the familyis going to reunion today; our moon must be round, our heart bound together with hand in hand.” Xu Qun specially selected the Mid-Autumn festival blessing song “Our Moon Must Be Round”, letting the students feel the Chinese culture of affection and “family harmony” concept.

Driving Force of “Chinese Craze”

The Confucius Institute coordinates Chinese language teaching and cultural communication in primary and secondary schools in the public school district, and its cultural teaching center is open to the public, providing more than 10,000 kinds of reading materials and audio-visual products. The Confucius institute greatly stimulated the enthusiasm of local people to learn Chinese.

According to Yang Jingyue, only a few schools in the Chicago public school district offered Chinese classes prior to the establishment of the Confucius Institute. Currently, there has been 41 primary and middle school opening Chinese class in the Chicago public school district, with about 60 full-time Chinese teachers equipped with Illinois teacher qualification offering four levels of courses and university advanced placement courses. There are not only primary and middle school students from grade 1 to grade 12 who learn Chinese, but also kindergarten children.

She said that “12 foreign languages are taught in the Chicago public school district. Chinese teaching started late, compared with the teaching of Spanish and French, it developed fast. Last year, around 11,000 primary and middle students learned Chinese in the Chicago public school district, with the people’s number of learning Chinese first surpassing French, becoming the second largest foreign language learned by Americans.”

Yang Jingyue believed that the “Chinese craze” is due to China’s development and rapid rise. Students choose to learn Chinese because of China’s potential, and “investing” future is the powerful driving force behind the “Chinese craze”.

Steve, a 16-year-old high school senior, said that he started learning Chinese in elementary school and became interested in Chinese culture. Steve said that the relationship between the United States and China is so close that learning Chinese will help his future career planning.

Compared to Steve, fourteen- year-old Li Siqi, is “born with the drive” to learn Chinese and thinks she should have good command of it “as a half-Chinese”. Li Siqi’s mother is from China so she speaks mandarin at home. Moreover, she also often chats with her grandmother via WeChat. Li Siqi has visited relatives in China many times and experienced the rapid changes in China. She is interested in everything about China and knows that Zhangjiakou, her mother’s hometown, is one of the venues for the 2022 Winter Olympics. She likes Chinese Lunar New Year best, when everyone is sitting together, playing games, singing and eating family reunion dinner. “That feels awesome!”

Endless People-to-people and Cultural Exchanges

Since its establishment, the Confucius institute in Chicago has been awarded the title of “Advanced Confucius Institute” for many times, with its director being awarded the title of “Advanced Individual” for many times. Chinese leaders visited Walter Payton College Preparatory High School and spoke highly of the role and contributions of the Confucius Institute in spreading Chinese culture.

The Confucius Institute has organized more than 20 public school students to study in China annually since its establishment. Yang Jingyue believed that only by experiencing China authentically, can students draw fair and objective conclusions and share their thoughts and feelings with others.

According to Yang Jingyue, social demand is the “secret” of the Institute’s continuous development. Due to the increasing number of students who choose to learn Chinese independently, the demand for full-time teachers has increased, and the in-service Chinese teacher training has been continuously promoted, which has led to the improvement of the overall Chinese level of the Chicago school district, forming a “virtuous circle of learning Chinese”.

In 2007, Yang Jingyue was involved in compiling the Chinese language teaching program of the Chicago public school district. By the standards of the time, it was an “ideal” condition that American high school students graduate with the required Chinese proficiency. After 10 years, she said, American students’ Chinese proficiency has improved much faster than expected, and the original syllabus has been unable to cater to the teaching needs. “We have begun to redesign Chinese teaching curriculum since last year.”

Ms. Yang said that thanks to the various sponsorships, the Chicago public school district’s Chinese program has been growing smoothly, compared with other languages. The funding ranging from cooperation projects such as “key language teachers in China and the United States”, full support from the Confucius Institute Headquarters (Hanban), as well as assistance from Chinese enterprises such as Wanxiang America Corporation.

Speaking of the 100,000 Strong Foundation, Ni Pin, Director of Wanxiang America Corporation said that overseas Chinese companies should do more to serve local communities and assume social responsibilities,

For Yang Jingyue, it is also a responsibility to promote friendship and people-to-people and cultural exchanges between China and the United States. Her biggest wish is to let more Americans know about China through the Confucius Institutes. “Promoting people-to-people and cultural exchanges between China and the United States has been my lifelong career. I am happy to see that the friendship between China and the United States has passed down from generation to generation, and that the people of our two countries are better connected, bringing welfare to the world.”

(Story by Wan Fang, Yang Haiyun and Xu Jing, Xinhua News Agency, Chicago, September, 25th)

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