- Associated Press - Thursday, May 12, 2016

DOTHAN, Ala. (AP) - Learning a new language often results in some interesting conversations.

Asked to count the number of members in his family in Chinese, Kelly Springs Elementary School fourth grade student Caleb Mares had a question of his own.

“Do you count a pregnant person as one or two people?” he asked.

“You can count them as one,” instructor Qunying Yuan replied.

Mares is part of a Chinese course taught at Kelly Springs by instructors from the Confucius Institute, a Troy University-sponsored program that provides Chinese language and culture lessons. The Troy University Confucius Institute is part of a network of 500 Confucius Institutes and 1,000 Confucius Classrooms in 138 countries.

The Confucius Institute program at Kelly Springs provides all students in grades K-5 with 30 minutes of instruction per week. The course has been ongoing since April.

Yuan said the course provides some basics of Chinese culture and language for students. Students learn greetings, family relationships and a few other vocabulary and grammar lessons.

“We want them to learn a little bit about Chinese so they’ll be interested in pursuing it further,” she said.

Yanbing Wang, Chinese program coordinator, said elementary school children are at the perfect age to pick up a new language. According to educational experts, elementary-school age children are developmentally ripe to learn a second language. Young minds are at their peak ability for absorbing sounds, structures, intonation patterns and grammar for a second language.

“They’re really excited about it,” Yuan said. “Every time they see me in the hallway, they say, ‘Ni hao.’ They’re very eager.”

Karen Aman, a teacher at Kelly Springs, said she’s enjoyed watching her students participate in the program. Aman said it’s interesting to watch her students apply the word analysis skills they’ve learned in her classes to another language.

“I think it’s great, it’s opened up their eyes,” she said.

Pierre Ingram, one of Aman’s students, said he’s enjoyed the classes.

“I like learning a whole bunch of Chinese names and how to say Chinese things,” he said.

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Information from: The Dothan Eagle, http://www.dothaneagle.com

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