NNU master’s student teaches Mandarin every Friday in Cascade, Idaho

March 4, 2013, 1:10 pm
Lin Meichun

From The Star-News

Lin MeiChun stood in front of fourth graders at Cascade Elementary School, her feet set wide and her arms out-stretched. Lin was demonstrating the Chinese character for “sky” and reinforced the notion by asking students to place sheets of paper on top of their heads. Lin teaches Chinese at Cascade every Friday in a pilot program intended to prepare young American for a future where the influence of the world’s most populous country is likely to grow.

Chinese is a difficult language to learn for English speakers, so early training can give students an advantage later in life, said Christian Zimmermann, a Cascade resident and Lutheran minister who proposed the class. If he had his way, Zimmermann would see students exposed to 12 years of Chinese to provide knowledge for graduating seniors looking for Asian-related jobs. By contrast, Chinese students begin learning English early, some even in kindergarten.

Alphabet Sounds
Lin is working on her master’s degrees both at Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa and at the South China Normal University in Guangzhou.

Her classes with the younger children are short, with more time spent with the older grades. She directs the students to ask questions and provide answers in Mandarin. The blackboards in the second-grade class show some earlier lessons. “Ni Hao” in Chinese means “hello.” “Ni Hao Ma” is “How are you?” Lin uses a method where the sounds of Mandarin words are spelled out using the English alphabet. But even those words have accents and other linguistic marks that may not  sound exactly the way they read.

The 1.3 billion occupants of China learn several thousand characters in order to converse. Students in the fourth grade class are learning more difficult sentences. Asking a person their nationality translates as, “You are which country person?”

The Cascade students also learned about the Chinese calendar, which this year is he Year of the Snake. The Cascade students identified their year of birth and then determined what sign they were born under through the Chinese horoscope. Those born in the Year of the Snake are said to be keen and cunning, intelligent and good providers, Lin said.

If American students get their first exposure to the Chinese language at the elementary school level, many would be adept at Mandarin and pursue careers after college, Zimmermann said.  “It would be awesome for someone who can speak fluent Chinese; having that as an additional skill on your resume will open  lot of doors,” he said. “It also is an opportunity for us to interact and learn the Chinese culture.”

Backer of Chinese instruction sees benefits over the long run

Christian Zimmermann considers a knowledge of Chinese to be as important as math or science for students who will be looking for careers in the near future.

Zimmermann, of Cascade, arranged for Chinese graduate student Lin Mei- Chun to teach Chinese language and customs to Cascade elementary school students this year.

Zimmermann, who was born in China and also taught there, and has put together a pilot program that could bring more Chinese educators to Idaho schools. “Twenty years down the road, Lin’s second-graders will be well into their college years and they will be fluent in Chinese,” said Zimmermann, describing his vision. “There will be opportunities to graduate with any major, work for any company, any government agency or any academic organization that does business with China,” he said.

Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tom Luna, visited Lin’s classes in Cascade last Friday.  “This is impressive as it also means more of her culture is being exposed,” Luna said. “The students were all engaged. Her skills in teaching are obvious.” Zimmermann wants to expand the program to Donnelly and McCall, the Boise area and even statewide.

Zimmermann is a Lutheran minister in Cascade who was the flight engineer on a TWA flight that was hijacked by Middle East terrorists in 1985. He also served in the Idaho Legislature.

Earlier The Better
Acquainting students with a second language at a young age is vital, as it becomes more difficult to pick up as they reach their teen-age years, he said. He joined forces with Cascade School Superintendent Vic Koshuta as they looked for ways to fund and establish the classes. “This is much more than normal stuff,” Koshuta said.

Zimmermann knew Lin through translation work and was confident she would be successful in getting the Cascade program running. Lin, who attends Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa,  met earlier this month with the education committees in both the Idaho Senate and Idaho House of Representatives to explain the Cascade class.

NNU is a safe environment for the Chinese students to earn their degrees and reach out to Idaho schools, Zimmermann said.


Photo for The Star-News by Dan Gallagher: Lin MeiChun of Northwest Nazarene University strikes a pose to illustrate the Chinese character for “sky” for fourth graders at Cascade Elementary School.


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