The world keeps getting smaller, especially in Columbus, where a language from a half a world away is being taught at a local middle school.

The fall semester of the Columbus Chinese Language School began Sunday at Central Middle School, offering courses in Mandarin Chinese.

Since 1997, the school has offered classes for children from ages 3½ to 12 and separate adult classes. The language school has an average of 85 students each semester, Principal Hua Jing said.

The classes are one way people who come to Columbus for professional opportunities, many from eastern Asian countries, stay connected with the cultures where they were born.

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“The whole world is becoming globalized,” Jing said. “The whole wide world has businesses with China.”

And it’s not just Chinese students staying in touch with their language heritage. Columbus residents who interact with local workers — who are natives of China — on a regular basis also find the classes helpful, Jing said.

Courses are taught through standardized textbooks, said Tracy Xiao, who has been a teacher at the school for three years.

Curriculum plan

The curriculum covers various Chinese grammatical concepts, Xiao said, from basic reading levels to more complex skills such as writing and speaking proficiently in Chinese.

To simplify schedules, the school follows the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. calendar, with the same breaks that the public school system has.

Class placement is usually determined by age group and skill level, although older and younger children sometimes share a classroom, Jing said.

Lessons in the textbooks are tailored to each class’ skill levels, she said.

Initially, younger students might be asked only to memorize a basic rule of grammar, she said. But as they progress, students will learn to use those grammatical rules to write letters in Mandarin to their grandparents.

Xiao is one of 11 teachers at the school who volunteer their time. Tuition is used to fund classroom supplies and activities, as well as administrative costs such as renting the Central Middle School space.

But teachers such as Xiao care about more than just following a textbook lesson plan, they said.

“As students progress, it’s more communication and culture education,” Jing said.

Teaching Chinese culture, too

For the past three years, Xiao has taught a Chinese dance class as part of the school’s curriculum, with about seven students each year.

Xiao choreographs and teaches the dance herself. After the students learn the routine, they perform it as part of the Chinese New Year Gala in Columbus.

“After that I start preparing our new dance,” Xiao said. “I will look online and consult other Chinese people, maybe even some in China, to identify the next year’s dance.”

While Xiao’s dances celebrate the Chinese Lunar New Year in a fun and engaging way, Jing said it’s important for students to understand the meaning behind the culture’s most sacred holidays.

The Lunar New Year, which is one of the most famous Chinese cultural holidays, is usually known for its huge celebrations, which come complete with a dancing dragon, Jing said.

But what many people don’t know is that the New Year festivities — including the food and abundance of red firecrackers — actually serve a deeper purpose.

“It’s a celebration to scare the monster away,” Jing said.

All holidays, not just the Lunar New Year, are sacred to the Chinese culture, Jing said. So in order to truly appreciate the Chinese language, students must first understand the value of those holidays to the Chinese people as a whole.

“There’s a lot of culture in each holiday,” Jing said. “There’s the food, how you relate to each other on the holidays and the activities you do on the holidays.”

The school’s adult classes focus more on cultural education, Jing said.

This semester, the school is offering classes in Chinese art and dance.

As the semester goes on and grammatical concepts become more complex, it can get more difficult to teach the Chinese language, especially if a student’s family speaks mostly English at home, Xiao said.

But when she sees her students finally grasp a grammatical concept or get excited about a cultural tradition, Xiao said, her efforts are worth it.

“The first part I like is to see my students learn more,” Xiao said. “But later on, I like to see the development of China and the piece of China that’s in them.”

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Registration is open throughout the semester for the Columbus Chinese Language School, but students cannot withdraw after the Oct. 11 session.

  • Adult class: $200 per student/semester
  • Children’s class: $140/semester for first child in a family, $130/semester for each additional child
  • Payment preferred as a check
  • Contact principal Hua Jing for more registration information, link: [email protected]

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The Columbus Chinese Language School began its new semester Sunday at Central Middle School, 725 Seventh St., Columbus.

  • Class times: 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Sundays
  • Fall semester classes are scheduled weekly through Dec. 13, except for Sept. 6, Oct. 4 and Nov. 22.