China Institute Class Observations
It’s that time of year again: Summer 2019 Registration for Adult Classes is still open!
I recently had the opportunity to visit several courses at China Institute, focusing on Mandarin, Culture & Humanities classes, Studio classes, and Private Tutoring sessions. Courses are designed to be taken independently or in conjunction. One student, L, talked about how she began Chinese language classes and then began to immerse herself into the culture, taking up studio classes like Brush Painting, Calligraphy, and Etymology & Proverbs. One evening, she had class while the Film Society at China Institute was screening of the film MAINELAND, and she began to attend these events, as well. There is always an opportunity to learn at China Institute.
The teacher’s contagious energy made the difference when getting students to speak Chinese and be passionate about their Chinese studies. I noticed how the teachers got everyone engaged and seldom spoke English, even in the beginner classes. Class sizes were quite small, so students had a lot of time to share their thoughts, practice grammar and vocabulary, and ask questions. The peaceful and friendly environment stimulated student interaction and the sense of community; everyone felt open to conversing with each other, even on breaks. No one was judged for how much Chinese they knew before coming into the class or how good their tones were. The diversity of the students were also notable in that I saw a great mix of backgrounds including international students, American students, and ethnically Chinese students. One student told me she is an ABC (American-Born Chinese) who took some Mandarin in college but kept losing proficiency because she didn’t practice. Now, she is taking language classes in the Heritage class for fun and is happy to have the opportunity to do so. P, a student in Beginner I, spoke about his motivation for learning Chinese. P is Brazilian and owns a few cosmetic businesses. He wants to communicate with his Chinese business partners – ordering food is a plus. Another student, H, is from Russia. When she came to the United States for school, there were a lot of Chinese students, so she made a lot of Chinese friends. She said, “I didn’t know any Chinese at all, not even ni hao
!” The classes help students grow their cross-cultural understanding and serve as an introduction to history and tradition, as L so eloquently told me, “Mandarin is the key to unlocking the culture.”
Studio classes highlight an aspect of Chinese culture, some being taught in Mandarin and others in English. China Institute offers brush painting, meditative arts, calligraphy, and more! It’s truly fascinating to learn so much about the Chinese people and their history through these classes. I have had the honor of attending calligraphy and brush painting. The individual classes are unique, as teachers have varying perspectives of Chinese culture that they share with their students. It’s quite special. In Calligraphy
, I learned a deeper meaning of Chinese culture displayed through the way you sit, the way you prepare and hold the brush, the way you slowly but steadily create dark marks on the paper. Everyone sits at the front third of their chairs with straight spines and erect elbows. This is elegance. Furthering the understanding of Chinese culture, Zhang Laoshi had the class learn calligraphy through classical Chinese poems, such as, “when the city is on fire, the fish in the moat become victims” and “Green mountains are always there witnessing time after time a red setting sun.” Brush painting class was special because Setton Laoshi has an incredible story. She’s originally from Korea, but she was very interested in Western Art as a young woman, which brought her to Europe to study. In her twenties, she, as an Asian woman, realized a special connection to her roots through Asian art. This led her return to Korea to study brush painting, an art form that originated in China. Years later, she and her family moved to Long Island, but there was a lack of brush painting teachers in New York. She decided to begin volunteering in Long Island, near Stony Brook, and eventually began teaching here at China Institute. “People loved it,” she told me, “this is an East-West dialogue!”
We will update this post with further thoughts on China Institute’s courses this week, specifically:
Literature and Culture Classes
Taught by the intelligent and funny Ben Wang, who was recently honored at Education Update’s breakfast for “Outstanding Educators of the Year 2019,” Etymology & Proverbs was the most memorable class I attended.
I would later learn that Wang Laoshi has a following of pupils who take any class, no matter the lecture, just to learn anything from his wise mind. He engaged with the class very well and kept everyone on their toes, always thinking. For each proverb, he first explained the history and the literal translation of each individual character and proceeded to ask, “okay,
what does [the proverb as a whole] mean?” The class then had to do their part and think about what the proverb truly implied, and then they would have a discussion about it. The students learned proverbs such as 和氣生財
, “calm attitude generates wealth” and 坐以待毙
, “sit and wait for death,” which undoubtedly left quite an impression on the students! The poetry class surprised me, as only Westerners attended and were all quite fluent in Mandarin. The poem, 祖国我亲爱的祖国
, was analyzed during this class. First, the students watched a video of the performance and then read the poem as a class, repeating after Laoshi as she said each line. This was a great class because the students learned more vocabulary, read aloud in Chinese at a native speaker’s speed, and conversed with each other in Mandarin, which allowed them to experience cultural and language immersion at an intense level.
Maisy Zhang, Program Coordinator and Resident Faculty, ALS, and I had a conversation about the private tutoring services offered at China Institute, since it would have been very disruptive to have someone observing a one-person class. She began her journey at China Institute as a part-time teacher in the Children’s Program. When she had the opportunity for a full-time position, she quickly took it. She shared that instructors should have energy and passion for the language and show students that it’s not just about China, Chinese language, or Chinese culture, but it also pertains to their daily lives. Maisy told me that most people who choose private tutoring over traditional classes typically have work schedules that don’t allow the time to attend classes or want specifically tailored experience to best fit their purpose for learning Chinese. One student, she shared, worked in fashion and garment trading and wanted to learn specific terminology to communicate with the Chinese factory.
Another student was a New York Times worker traveling to China in a few months and chose the private tutoring option to have a concentrated and intensive workload to prepare him. The great aspect about private tutoring is that it is thoughtfully customized to each student. Prior to the program, students fill out a survey specifying any previous experience with Chinese and what their goals are for the language. Then, Maisy matches the student with a teacher of best fit, as each teacher has their own way of teaching and their own expertise. There is no set curriculum because every student has their own pace and their own objectives for learning the language. The location can be any study space, whether that be their office, their home, a coffee shop, or China Institute. Maisy said, “I am very proud because people who have taken private tutoring often come back to learn more, are willing to continue, and are very satisfied.”
All observations were recorded and written by Emily Lubin, China Institute’s Summer Intern