With a plethora of online programs claiming to teach a new language for free, what is the point in paying for a class anymore?
The answer is interaction.
Hua Jing, principal of the Columbus Chinese Language School, said classes there are much more than just repeating words after a teacher — they are about friendship, culture and arts.
A new season of classes kicks off 1 p.m. Aug. 10 with an open house and registration.
The school, a nonprofit organization founded in 1997 as part of the Columbus Chinese Association, offers classes for both children and adults. Semesters run through December and cost $200 for about 15 two-hour sessions Sundays at Central Middle School.
Jing said the youth class is popular among Chinese parents who want to show their children their roots.
“Most parents from China expect their kids to be bilingual,” she said. “It’s good for their future.”
Hong Li, who teaches one of the classes, said the Chinese lessons are different than classes in the public schools here.
“We try to maintain discipline and focus,” she said. “There’s no running around.”
Another teacher, Autumn Yu, said the students will receive 15 to 20 minutes’ worth of homework each week.
“They love it, but at the same time it’s hard compared to typical American classes,” she said.
But Jing also described the class as “vivid, with lots of interaction.” The students perform skits and watch videos. They play card games where they match Chinese characters and they participate in talent shows and the Chinese New Year Gala.
Monica Luo teaches one of the adult classes, and she said it is a very different approach than the children’s sessions.
She doesn’t teach characters, but she blends in calligraphy and culture. The class is meant to prepare students with the basics for interacting with Chinese people or traveling to the country.
She said she teaches students how to hail a taxi or recognize some items on a menu. She explains to them some cultural differences, like how people stand much closer to each other in public spaces because the country is so populated.
Tom Meyer took the class last year because his fiancee is Chinese. He traveled with her to China to meet her family, and he said the class helped him get by.
“It gave me a good primer to speak her language as best I could, to talk to her family,” he said. “I was able to get around on my own.”
Many of the students enroll for business purposes — Cummins has joint business ventures located in China and local workers are expected to communicate with employees there or visit the plants.
Amit Ranjan enrolled last year after working with Chinese colleagues on a daily basis.
Although he has since switched jobs and no longer needs to communicate with those colleagues, he said he enjoyed the class for its introduction to the language and culture.
He said he started with no background and got to the point where he could say hello and interact a bit.
“I don’t think I would have gotten that with an online program,” Ranjan said. “I would say those were Sunday afternoons well spent.”