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