Mandarin Chinese classes aim to open door to global opportunities

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

    By DALE LINDER-ALTMAN, T&D Staff Writer

An introduction to Chinese culture has opened a door to global experience for students at South Carolina University this semester. Two introductory classes in Mandarin Chinese have moved the university a step closer to offering a degree in foreign languages, says Dr. Joyce Blackwell, vice president for academic affairs.


The new classes are part of the university's larger goal of providing a more global experience for students, she said.


"With today's ... global economy, as you know, China is playing a major role in terms of trade with various countries," Blackwell said.


"It's likely that many S.C. State students will begin to form some kind of relationship with some of the Chinese cities or industries."


Professor Jui-Ling Chiang, a native of Taiwan, is teaching both courses in Mandarin Chinese, one on the official language spoken at the United Nations and the other used for all legal documents in China.


Learning the language is more than memorization, Chiang said. The first thing she has her students do is listen to the sound and then go on to the tone of the language, she said. One word may have a number of meanings by the way it's accented, said Chiang, adding that she uses "performance culture" to see that her students give a good impression when talking to the Chinese people they meet.


She will teach the culture and body language that goes with the dialogue, Chiang said. She said the student's words must match their actions, such as when they're giving a gift to someone or when they're introducing people.


Chiang wants her students to appear knowledgeable and "at home" if they visit China.


"It's one thing to speak the language and to appear as an American ... all of a sudden, you've got that person pegged as an outsider and (people think) they're not being sensitive to the culture," she said.
Her students need to be able to build relationships with the people they meet, she said.


"For me, it's to see that they speak it with the right timing with the performance ... that they are not standing like a student. I correct them in a way that Chinese people will think, ‘Hmmm - these people know something,'" Chiang said.


Although Mandarin is the official language of China, many of Chiang's people still speak Taiwanese, she said. She said she spoke it herself until she began kindergarten, where she learned Mandarin.
Chiang said two factors encouraged her to come to S.C. State.


"The initials were the same as my first school, St. Cloud State University ... I thought it was a good sign," she said.


A more serious interest also encouraged her to come to S.C. State, Chiang said.


St. Cloud was almost all white, but she'd come to the U.S. to interact with different ethnic groups of people, she said. At S.C. State, 96 percent of students are African American, and she sent inquiries to the university about working there.


"When I found out they were interested ... I thought, like, ‘Wow!' It is to me a great opportunity. I was so excited ... I like to interact with different people," she said.


Chiang grew up in Taiwan and came to the U.S. to study the language and culture. She attended St. Cloud State University in Minnesota from 2003-04 and earned a master's degree dealing with training and learning. She was a private tutor before coming to S.C. State this summer.


Living in Orangeburg reminds her of Taiwan, Chiang says.

The weather is much the same, hot and humid, and the people here are also courteous like they are in Taiwan, she said.


"I'm not used to that in the North," she said. "In Orangeburg, they say "ma'am, Miss, Doctor . . . I think it's neat to show respect to people," Chiang said. "This is similar to Taiwan. They call people by their address and last name. I think that makes me feel I can fit into the culture quite well."


Dr. Ghussan Greene, department chair of Communications and Languages at S.C. State, reports Chinese is one of five languages designated by the federal government as critical to national security. Because of that, the government will provide "seed money" for schools and districts that are willing to teach it, she said.


Statewide, only 10 public schools teach Chinese, but that is up from none just five years ago, according to Greene. Ruta Couet, who oversees foreign language programs for the S.C. Department of Education, says interest in the Chinese language is a recent phenomenon that can be attributed to the growing economic force China has become.