- Associated Press - Friday, September 12, 2014

EVANSVILLE, Ind. (AP) - Nin Hao.

Pronounce it KNEE HOW.

There, you just learned to say “hello,” in a respectful way, in Mandarin Chinese.

Actually, this version is used more by children. Adults would say Ni Hao, pronounced the same way, for a casual and popular way to greet others.

This is the way children are learning in Chinese language school classes offered each Sunday by the Tri-State Chinese Culture Association. Adult classes are also planned.

The school has reopened after more than nine years to serve both Chinese families and Americans with adopted Chinese children, both of whom want their children to know their culture.

“The majority of Chinese parents have the desire to keep their Chinese roots,” Chunmei Guan, a teacher in the school and a member of the board of the cultural association, told the Evansville Courier & Press (http://bit.ly/1m01tEY ). “They want to instill in children what Chinese culture is and what Chinese language is.”

The school teaches Mandarin Chinese, which is spoken by more than 1 billion people, making it the most widely spoken language in the world, according to Guan.

“Chinese is a tone, ideograph and pictographic language,” Guan said. “The writing symbols are prescribed either from the speech sounds or from the meaning, whose characters are composed of strokes which are the smallest units in the language. That’s why Chinese calligraphy starts from writing strokes and we use flashcards and pictures more often in our Chinese classes.”

The cultural group, a nonprofit established in the 1980s, was created to help promote an understanding and appreciation of Chinese culture and heritage. It also assists newly arrived families and students, offering guided tours to retail businesses and interpretation for medical, educational and business appointments.

Guan, who is also a Chinese instructor at the University of Southern Indiana and the academic affairs director at TSCCA, said she saw a need to reinstate the Chinese classes.

“The Chinese community, it grows very fast. Three years ago, when I came here, maybe, we (had) thirty-something active families,” Guan said. “But this semester I feel this has doubled.”

“With more and more Chinese people moving to the Tri-State area, to work, to teach or to go to school, we found the need to teach Chinese language and culture to the youngsters growing. “

Guan said TSCCA offers five classes, four of which are for children with Chinese parents. The fifth is for children with no Chinese speaker at home.

“For the American families, they need more preparation, more motivation, more drive to help their kids and to develop and improve with their kids together,” Guan said.

Guan said the school plans to start adult classes that focus on “survival Chinese, conversational Chinese, business Chinese and medical Chinese.”

All of the teachers are volunteers, including Wendy Zhuang.

Zhuang said Evansville’s small city-size means there is a smaller Chinese population as well, which reduces opportunities for interactions within their own community.

“Here, the kids, they don’t have the environment to speak Chinese, so, I think it’s very important to have the school to kind of have the place and opportunity for them to have a formal environment to study,” she said. “Otherwise it’s very hard.”

It’s hard for Zhuang, who also works full-time at Mead Johnson, to teach her son, Kerry, at home because he doesn’t speak Chinese that much after a full day of school, she said.

“He just keeps talking in English. But then in the class environment, they are around good friends and they can play together,” she said. “So it’s a very nice place. I am glad that we have it.”

Zhuang said four students recently attended a Chinese-speaking competition in Indianapolis, and two won first and second place after presenting a story in their “first, then second, language.”

Guan taught Chinese at Signature School for 2 1/2 years before she returned to China in 2009. To reunite with her local family, Guan’s husband sponsored her and their daughter to return in 2011.

A few months after she began teaching Chinese at USI in 2013, Guan and some of her friends decided to reopen TSCCA at St. Paul Lutheran church.

TSCCA Principal Jenbien Tsai also ran the school when it shutdown in 2004 after many Chinese families moved to larger cities.

After several parents showed interest in learning Chinese, Tsai and Guan went to work on restarting them.

“In other cities, we talked to teachers and principals, like in Indianapolis, and they all had adult classes,” Tsai said, “and we said, ‘well maybe we can start getting this thing started in Evansville too.’”

The adult classes have no set start date as of yet, but Tsai said he hopes they help American parents to practice the language with their kids outside of the classroom. He also said that the classes could benefit many people in other ways.

“Basically, we (U.S.) are doing the business all around the world and maybe your market is in China,” he said, “and then you’re going to run into that situation and you’re going to say, ‘Aah, I wish I had some language proficiency.’”

___

Information from: Evansville Courier & Press, http://www.courierpress.com

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