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Ceremony marks end of Mandarin program in DeKalb

DeKALB – After participating in a three-week-long camp at DeKalb High School learning how to speak Mandarin, 8-year-old Megan Medina can now talk with her Chinese friends.

Megan practiced common words and phrases such as “hello” every day with her four stuffed pandas and a doll. And now she can speak to her friends, too.

“I wanted to talk to them in Chinese,” Megan said. “I can say, ‘I live in America,’ how old I am, hello, numbers and colors.”

Twenty students ranging in age from 7 to 14 years old showed off their Mandarin skills Friday in a ceremony marking the closing of StarTalk Chinese Immersion Summer Language Program at DeKalb High School, 501 W. Dresser Road.

The ceremony included Chinese songs, dances, language skills, spinning plates and Chinese yo-yos. The camp’s curriculum combines both the Chinese language and culture so that students have a fun time soaking in the information, said Fred Lu, StarTalk program director.

The program began in Naperville but moved to DeKalb last year. A $90,000 federal grant largely funded participation. StarTalk budgets about $750 per student, but parents only had to pay $60 for their children to be in the classes.

The curriculum impressed Megan’s mother, Candace Medina, a Spanish instructor at Northern Illinois University. Medina put three of her children in the Chinese program to learn Mandarin, which is one of the most common languages spoken in the world.

“They all come home and speak Chinese,” Medina said. “Sometimes I think, was that a good idea? I don’t understand them.”

In the three weeks, the students were taught words about family, physical characteristics, colors, fruit and expressions. Taiwan native Ijen Tsai Krantz taught one of the two classes. Her students ranged in age from 7 to 10 years old.

“I’m really lucky,” Krantz said. “They are so focused on learning and really cooperative. They just sit there waiting for me to give them a new language.”

It was Brendan Prosser’s second year in the program. The 11-year-old Geneva resident has a Taiwanese mother and American father. He speaks to his mom in Mandarin and to his dad in English.

Brendan’s mother, Lifang Tsou, wanted her son to be in the program to learn how to read and write in Mandarin. Tsou teaches Mandarin at Glenbard West High School in Glen Ellyn. She said there is no Mandarin education program in the DeKalb area.

More people should learn how to speak Mandarin since American corporations are moving to China, Tsou said.

“It opens up a lot of opportunities,” she said. “If they can speak Mandarin, they get the job easily.”

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