Chinese lessons help youngsters connect


June 19, 2008

West Bend resident Shih-Chen Huang teaches children basic Chinese starting with shapes and numbers Tuesday afternoon at Our Saviors Lutheran Church in West Bend.

Most of the children in Shih-Chen Huang’s Mandarin Chinese language and culture classes at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church are themselves Chinese. The same is not true of their parents.

Huang, a West Bend resident who teaches at the Chinese Student Center at the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee, welcomes anyone who wishes to learn from her. Adoptive parents have taken advantage of her classes as a way to anchor their children in their native language and culture.

Huang teaches children from ages 3 to 11 - crucial years, she said, because children pick up languages easily at a younger age.

"Kids are just like sponges, they learn things very fast," Huang said.




Huang’s husband, Chris Gan, said that the children in the class learned perfect pronunciation, a feat much harder for adults, who try to fit new languages into their existing understanding of syntax and pronunciation.

"They don’t question," Gan said of the students. "They just observe."

The trick, Huang said, is to get her students to observe without boring them. Her hour-long classes have as much time for play as for study, she said, but even in play, students learn Chinese culture.

During her Tuesday class, Huang showed her students how to play a game called "the eagle catches the chickens. One child plays the hen, with the others playing chicks lined up behind the hen. Another child plays the eagle, who tries to get past the hen to snatch the chicks.

Many Chinese children play the game, Huang said. It also teaches the children the virtue of protecting their friends, she said.

Joan Baumgartner of the town of Trenton sends her adoptive daughter, Emma, to Huang’s class. Baumgartner said she did not want to wait until later in Emma’s life, when her daughter would have a harder time learning her native language and culture.

Baumgartner said she is glad that Huang’s private classes are an option for her, but rankles that Emma cannot learn Mandarin so soon in her life through public education.

"If the West Bend School District is really serious about (teaching) Mandarin, they should actually start at kindergarten or first grade, instead of high school," Baumgartner said.

What: Shih-Chen Huang is looking for more students age 3-11 for her next Chinese language and culture classes. The classes begin Aug. 19 and will run until December.

Where: Our Savior’s Lutheran Church.

When: Ages 3-6 classes Tuesday and Thursday, from 3:30-5 p.m. Ages 7-11 classes Tuesday and Thursday, from 5-6 p.m. All times tentative.

For more information, call Huang at 262-325-1002.


This story appeared in The West Bend Daily News on June 19, 2008.