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Valley Pre-Owned

Publish Date: 12/28/2006

Senior Sydney Schwindt, 17, practices character strokes in her Mandarin Chinese class at Alexander Dawson School on Dec. 11. The class was added to the curriculum this fall. Times-Call/Jackie Endsley

Character driven
Mandarin Chinese thrives as elective course in school

EDITOR’S NOTE: At the end of each year, the Daily Times-Call updates readers with its “Where Are They Now” series, which revisits notable area newsmakers and finds out how they’re faring. Through Tuesday, Times-Call staff writers will bring you stories and vignettes about people, animals and even a Pluto-bound spacecraft featured on our pages over the past year.

LONGMONT — In the “French” cottage on the Alexander Dawson School campus, where students traditionally have learned “parler français,” a few students are learning to write and speak Mandarin Chinese.

The school began to carry the language as an elective this fall.

“This is just the beginning of the awareness to teach Chinese in U.S. schools,” Doyen Mitchell, community service coordinator, said in a Daily Times-Call article in July.

Last January, President Bush told a group of college presidents that having more Americans who could speak languages such as Mandarin Chinese, Arabic, Farsi and Hindi would help with national security and commerce and improve relationships with people around the world.

During the 2005-06 school year, Dawson offered Mandarin language instruction as part of its after-school program. This fall, Mandarin joined Spanish and French as a language elective for students in middle and high school grades.

The curriculum is taught by Beijing native Peggy Liu, who founded the Xiao Tong Chinese Culture School in Louisville, where she taught Chinese language and culture. She also has been an instructor at Bohua Chinese School in Boulder.

Liu said teaching Mandarin Chinese daily in a classroom is quite different from private instruction.

“The results are a huge difference,” she said, adding that Dawson parents who travel for work or leisure have told her that Mandarin Chinese is the future, and they want it for their children.

She said a person considered fluent in Mandarin Chinese knows about 3,000 characters; it is the official Chinese spoken language used by the People’s Republic of China, the Republic of China (Taiwan) and Singapore. Liu said 20 to 25 dialects are spoken in China, which is why Dawson students are learning the official language.

“It’s hard (to learn) in the beginning, but it’s easy to pick up,” she said. “It’s like puzzles.”

Fourteen middle schoolers and eight high school students are enrolled in the program. Dawson has about 420 students total, she said.

Senior Alex Dodge, 17, recently took a trip to China with a slalom kayak racing team, and his new language skills came in handy.

Dodge said he is considering a return to China someday to teach English, and his racing team is hoping to make it to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

Dodge said he initially took the course over history because “it sounded fun,” but he admitted that the language — with strokes and characters to write — is complex.

“It’s a bit boggling at first. The characters are the hardest part because there’s no alphabet,” he said. “But it’s well worth it.”

Melanie M. Sidwell can be reached at 303-684-5274, or by e-mail at msidwell@times-call.com.

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