University of Wisconsin-River Falls
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April 2007

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Teaching Chinese, Learning American

Dozens of paperbacks and hardcover books are shoehorned into the small bookcase perched above his small desk in the modest residence hall room. Titles are as diverse as The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper and Charlie Bone and the Time Twister by children’s book author Jenny Nimmo. “I’m starting my own library to bring back to my students,” says Professor Lou Ling.

Lou in the classroom

Lou, in the midst of his second of two semesters teaching Chinese to UWRF students, hails from the city of Hangzhou in the Zhejiang province of China. There he teaches English at Zhejiang Education Institute (ZEI), a school with formal ties to UWRF.

There are more than 50,000 characters in the Chinese language, Lou explains, but his American students are learning the 3,000 or so most frequently used ones in daily life. Some characters act as pictograms like the characters for water, mother and rice plant. Or various combinations of characters can convey an idea. Lou’s American students learn the language in units based on topics such as mealtime, clothing, and leisure activities.

For the Chinese native, American film is a passion. He watches a movie almost daily. “It is like escaping to another environment,” he says with excitement. However, he will readily tell you that he’s not unique in his interest. For better or worse, through DVD distribution, popular American film and television touches the lives of millions of young Chinese men and women. He says what’s popular among his Chinese students are the films “School of Rock,” “American Pie” and the television series, “The Simpsons.” Responding to that interest, Lou finds himself teaching his students in china American slang, something that has never really been unfamiliar to him. In China, English is a required subject beginning in third grade. “When I was taught, one group learned American English. The other groups learned British English. I learned American,” he notes.

The Peoples Republic China is in the midst of great transformation that includes an effort to distribute wealth from the coastal population centers to the agrarian interior. Concurrently, the Chinese are experiencing some new attitudes due in part to Western influences. “Chinese people take themselves very seriously,” says Lou with a smile and a nod, but many have become admirers of America’s independence, creativity and casual way of life. Because of Lou's experiences at UWRF, the next generation of Chinese youth can expect even more exposure to American language and culture—from Last of the Mohicans to “The Simpsons.”

 



 

American Democracy Project


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Meet the Provost


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