DeKALB – Room 108 at DeKalb High School hummed with Mandarin phrases and songs during StarTalk’s summer Chinese language performance Friday.
For the past three weeks, children from DeKalb County have gathered at the high school for five hours a night, three nights a week, learning to count, speak and sing in Mandarin. Now that the program has ended, students are challenged to incorporate Chinese culture and language into their homes, StarTalk nurture director Fred Lu said.
“That is the most difficult part, and we are being challenged by StarTalk Central each year,” he said.
StarTalk is a federally funded program that provides children with the opportunity to learn as many as 10 languages, including Hindi, Portuguese, Swahili and Korean. However, Chinese is the most popular program, Lu said. There are more than 800 million native Mandarin Chinese speakers in the world.
After 70 hours, each student was able to introduce their parents, count to 33, maintain a conversation and perform a Chinese song and dance.
“We prepare American students with global knowledge,” Lu said.
The federal program does not test. Instead, students were sent home with self-assessment materials and cultural items such as chopsticks and a Chinese calendar to encourage them to practice.
For some students, including 9-year-old Alora Ager of DeKalb, this was their first experience with the language program, which has been in DeKalb County for three years. Despite Mandarin’s complexity, the young students were able to catch on quickly because of the way the material was presented to them, Lu said.
“My favorite part was the dancing,” Ager said.
Ager participated in the program with her brother and sister in singing two Mandarin songs and introducing themselves with handmade Chinese shadow puppets.
The program’s success has sparked interest in Mandarin courses at DeKalb High School, Principal Tamra Ropeter said. Currently the school offers Spanish and French classes to fulfill foreign language requirements.
“The world is getting so much smaller,” she said. “[There are] more people you can communicate with based on how many languages you can speak.”
Bringing Mandarin to the high school would be exciting news, but for now DeKalb’s summer program seems to be fulfilling a community interest in learning new languages, Lu said.
“It’ll be nice for the kids to have an additional selection. I don’t expect everyone to take Chinese in the future,” he said. “Some of the kids will get into it and they can learn, and then I’ll be happy.”