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Technology lets schools teach Chinese in many classrooms
Chinese language teacher Meishan Spradlin explains a test to students at Davis Middle School. - photo by Tom Reed

Teacher Meishan Spradlin usually begins her Mandarin Chinese class with a warm-up, with phrases such as “My name is” and “I am 13.”

A chorus of students echo the words back, but from two different classrooms ­— the class seated before her and the eighth-graders on the television screen.

Spradlin, an instructor at World Language Academy in Flowery Branch, leads a class via teleconferencing Monday through Thursday at Davis Middle School.

“It’s saving us money and I think it will get more students interested in the future. That’s the goal,” she said.

Hall County Schools expanded its Chinese program in August after the Confucius Institute at Kennesaw State University, in partnership with Bright From the Start, offered Chinese teachers to begin programs.

The increases to technology and staff allowed teachers to introduce language and literacy to the lower grade levels.

Mandarin Chinese is offered at the elementary and middle school level, as well as in three high schools in the county.

Teleconference technology, which was introduced this year, is allowing Spradlin and possibly additional teachers in the future to reach more than one school in a class period.

Spraldin said she calls and connects to Davis Middle School in the morning and the image of both classrooms is displayed on the screen at the front of the class. For images and video, she can connect her laptop to the television to provide the materials to her middle-schoolers.

The downside, she said, is that she isn’t able to walk around the classroom or have one-on-one time with students.

“I do miss the personal contact, so I decided to come in to the school on Fridays,” she said of Davis Middle School. “That way, they get to know me better.”

Another piece of the program’s expansion this year was the addition of four Chinese teachers who were sent to Flowery Branch from China by the Confucius Institute.

World Language Academy Chinese teacher Lin Lin, one of the Confucous Institute volunteers, moved to Flowery Branch three weeks ago. In her home country, she taught language to adults and worked as a professional dancer. Each day, Lin provides one hour of Chinese instruction to kindergarteners, where they learn such things as traditional songs, sentences and Chinese paper cutting.

She said she loves the inquisitive nature of her American students and believes early language implementation is helpful for the future of foreign language study.

“It’s important to reach children early because every tiny event will be important to them as adults,” Lin said. “Kids have a talent for language that amazes me.”

The Confucius Institute, operated by the Hanban Institute in China, is funding the expenses for the group and Hall County is paying $16,000 in living expenses for each teacher. Though they don’t have personal transportation, the volunteers are currently shuttled to and from school by staff, said Carrie Woodcock, a coordinator at World Language Academy.

The teachers will remain in the country for the next year, then decide if they want to stay for an additional year of teaching.

Woodcock said there may be plans to expand the program even further and at some point, bring in more staff.

“You never know what the future will bring. We started small to make sure we could accommodate teachers and now we know we can,” she said.