Chinese Cultural Festival, jointly hosted by the Confucius Institute in Chicago (CIC) and Chicago Public Schools (CPS), is a good way for American students to get some knowledge of China, CIC Director Jane Lu said.
CIC focuses on promoting Chinese language and culture here in Chicago. There is such a need among CPS students and parents, and CIC is meeting the need."
"We are actually acting as a window and a bridge," she said in a recent interview with Xinhua.
Lu has been a CPS Chinese language teacher before and remains so after taking up the post of CIC director in 2010. The Chinese World Language Program was first implemented in CPS in 1999, starting with only three schools, but grew rapidly after CIC was established in 2006. Some 13,000 of the nearly 400,000 CPS students now are learning Chinese daily.
Besides classroom teaching, CIC together with CPS also organizes cultural activities, according to Lu. It would invite Chinese scholars to teach Tai Ji and Kongfu, give lectures about China on Chinese Spring Festival, Mid-Autumn Festival, etc.
This is the fourth year for CIC and CPS to host Chinese Cultural Festival, where CPS students can watch traditional Chinese songs and dances, learn Chinese calligraphy, papercutting, Chinese chess, and painting.
In order to give students an intuitive feeling of China, CIC has been sending 20-30 CPS students to China every year since its establishment, and the program has never interrupted. During their 4- to 6-week stay in China, the students spend half a day learning Chinese in classes and half a day participating in cultural activities.
For the purpose, CIC has become sisters schools with the High School Affiliated to Renmin University of China, Beijing No. 4 High School, Beijing Foreign Languages School, Shanghai Nanyang Model High School, and Shenyang Experimental High School. Through pen pal activities and interschool exchanges, Chinese and American students become friends.
American students would share their experiences in China with their communities and schools, letting more American people know a real China, Lu said.
CPS, the third largest urban school district in the United States, went to China and recruited a Chinese language teacher in Shanghai this year.
"While the school district is in a tight budget, it still reaches out to China to recruit a teacher to guarantee the quality of Chinese language teaching, and I am deeply moved," Lu said.
Lu holds that the younger a student starts learning a foreign language, the higher success rate he or she will achieve. Through learning Chinese, American students may get interested in Chinese culture and history, which in turn will propel them to learn Chinese better.
"It will be a virtuous cycle," Lu said.
"Students learning Chinese are friendly to China, and those who have been to China foster a special feeling for China, because they have knowledge of China," Lu said.
These students will become the main force in building up friendship relation between the two countries in the future. In the meantime, China's growing strong has provided professional opportunities to American students learning Chinese.
"That is one of the reasons why more and more American students are ready to learn Chinese and more and more American parents are ready to let their children learn Chinese," Lu added.
CIC is the first Confucius Institute in the United States that is housed in a K-12 environment and that focuses primarily on K-12 Chinese language and cultural education.