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Students Learning Mandarin Chinese

June 19, 2012, 5:03 PM by Nicole Winters

Students Learning Mandarin Chinese

It's one of the most difficult languages in the world to learn, but that's not keeping some Sioux Falls students from trying their hand at Mandarin Chinese during a ten-day summer camp.

"We were moving really, really quickly.  We had to remember everything we learned yesterday, and we had to do it again," Lincoln High School Student Chaska McGowan said.

McGowan is spending two weeks in Chinese Camp. The first eight days are online. The final two are in-person presentations.

"For the final two days, we come here to do a lot of really fun activities to do with the students directly face-to-face," Sheree Willis said.

Willis is the Program Director at Confucius Institute at Kansas University.  Through a federal grant, she teaches students how to read, write and speak the language 1.3 billion people already know.

"Clearly learning Chinese is a very useful skill and we think we'll open doors for young people in our country who have that skill," Willis said.

Obviously, the students are not expected to be fluent in the language after just ten days. But they are learning about two to three months worth of material compared to a typical language class because they're immersed in the language.

"I was surprised at how much I learned and how difficult it was, and also how interesting it was," McGowan said.

No English is spoken to help students grasp the language, which can be even more difficult because it's tonal.

"Each syllable when pronounced in a different tone means something different," Willis said.

"Like ma means something different if you say ma, ma or ma (in different tones), which really makes a big difference if you're trying to say something and you say it wrong, it could mean something completely different," McGowan said.

McGowan says the challenge has been a lot of fun, and she's hoping it will open more doors in the future.  That's just what the program is designed for.

This is the third year the camp has been held through the Sioux Falls School District. The district doesn't have a Chinese class during the school year, but they do offer an online learning program.

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