Teaching Austin’s Children Mandarin as a Cultural Experience

Focal Points — By on May 18, 2011 6:47 pm

By Emily Mitis
For ChinaInFocus

“There are more Chinese kids right now learning English than there are American kids learning English,” said New Yorker magazine China correspondent Evan Osnos when he recently appeared on Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report.”  But that is not to say that American kids aren’t learning Chinese as well.

In Austin, the Austin Lily Pad Chinese School provides Mandarin- language courses at a pace suited to any students willing to apply themselves – no previous knowledge required.  Several Chinese schools around town teach children how to speak and write the language. Austin Lily Pad Chinese School focuses on sharing Chinese traditions and learning Mandarin Chinese to augment the learning experience.

Brandy Cheung started Austin Lily Pad Chinese School,  a state-registered language school, with the help of her husband, Donald, last August, just in time to coincide with the 2010-2011 school year. The program features certified teachers who come from all over Central Texas to give lessons on Sunday afternoons.  Cheung, a kindergarten teacher herself, said, “I’m really excited to give back to my community and provide students a chance to learn from the start”.

Monica Sanchez enrolled her three children in another school a few years ago and then moved them after Lily Pad opened its doors. The Sanchez children speak English and Spanish at home, and are currently learning Mandarin as well as German and French. “We love languages,” Sanchez said, “and we enjoy learning Chinese because we know it will be important.”

Sanchez may have a point. Today, China is the world’s most populous nation, its second biggest economy, and Mandarin is spoken by more people than any other world language.  In mainstream news it is almost impossible to avoid hearing about China and the advances the country is making.

A reporter was  nonetheless surprised when she visited the Lily Pad school on a recent afternoon to see among the 86 students almost as many enrollees from other ethnic groups as there were students of Chinese heritage. Cheung said that about 60 percent of the parents enroll students because they have family from or in China, and the rest enroll their children just to learn a new language and learn more about the Chinese culture.

In the classroom, children acted, well, like children – chatting away with their teachers in English and Mandari about the week’s activities and about their homework. Every student has a set of flash cards with Chinese characters on them, which they practice with a teaching assistant or each other. They smiled, laughed, read from workbooks and took a quiz where they held up flags and named the countries in Mandarin. Mistakes were made and corrected, but a fun time, it seemed evident, was had by all.

“We hope to keep growing and giving back to the community,” says Cheung. “We are expanding and expect to have even more students next semester.”

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