Sunday June 24, 2018

Chinese Language, Culture Program Set for SUNY-Oswego

Bridging communication gaps is the goal of the summer youth language program
By Lou Sorendo

    It all starts with communication.


    The Chinese Language and Culture Academy, a STARTALK program, is presenting a free Chinese language summer program for children and teens in grades 3-12 at SUNY Oswego.


    STARTALK is a language program funded by the National Security Agency. The National Foreign Language Center at the University of Maryland provides subject matter expertise. As specified on its website, STARTALK seeks to expand the teaching of “strategically important” languages in the United States. Its mission is to increase the number of U.S. citizens learning and teaching foreign languages.


    Chinese is the targeted language and culture for the SUNY Oswego program.


    STARTALK: Chinese Language and Culture Academy Summer Program will take place from July 2-20 on the campus of SUNY Oswego. Sessions will run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays.


    A closing ceremony on July 21 will give students a chance to display what they have learned.


    There are several slots remaining for interested students.


    The academy will feature its open house from 10-11:30 a.m. Saturday in Park Hall rooms 202, 204, 211, 212 on SUNY Oswego’s main campus.


    The open house will give participants the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the pickup and drop off routine and daily schedule; meet teachers and classmates; receive a camp T-shirt and water bottle; complete the registration package, and ask questions.


    Program officials will help participants complete the registration package, including the required forms with STARTALK Central, during the open house.


    Funded and ready to roll: Ming-te Pan, associate professor of history at SUNY Oswego, and Ching Hung Hsiao of the college’s Modern Languages and Literatures Department are in charge of the program.


    Pan is the program director, and Hsiao serves as the principal investigator. Hsiao is also the program’s lead teacher and designs the curriculum based on STARTALK’s principles.


    The NSA has supplied approximately $90,000 in grant funds to support the initiative.


    As a basic requirement of the curriculum, virtually no English is spoken during the teaching sessions. Teachers are urged to speak Chinese at least 90 percent of the time.


    Pan said students are at first taken aback by the approach, but the method proves worthwhile after only three weeks of immersion in the targeted language.


    As students are likely to have a limited Chinese vocabulary, the teachers supplement their work using hand gestures, body language, and pictures.


    STARTALK offers unique methods and instructional strategies to teach children with no alternate language background by asking them to replicate what the teachers do and then applying it in a daily life context.


    The program integrates culture, content and language.


    Youngsters acquire enough verbal skills to be able to meet people and introduce themselves. They also learn words associated with common things such as colors and food.


    “We think this is a good opportunity to bring this to the community and expose our young people to a critical-need language,” Pan said.


    The U.S. regards a language as “critical-need” if the demand for professionals fluent in the language cannot currently be met. “Critical” is also referenced in accord with areas of the world where the U.S. is significantly involved economically or defensively, with a corresponding high demand for individuals who can communicate effectively.


    STARTALK languages include Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin), Dari, Korean, Hindi, Persian, Portuguese, Swahili, Russian, Turkish, and Urdu.


    “The NSA wants to promote this, thinking these languages are what society and the nation need,” Pan added.


    According to STARTALK, if its objectives are achieved, the U.S. will be better equipped to improve its international relations, solidify its national security, and ensure its global economic competitiveness in coming years.


    Unifying cultures: Pan said STARTALK has three goals: trigger students’ interest in learning; promote teacher training, and foster curriculum design and development.


    Its grant covers the first goal, Pan noted.


    “We don’t want to put pressure on students, so we use different strategies to enhance the acquisition of a foreign language,” he said.


    The program engages students in Chinese culture — including music and art — as part of its learning strategy.


    “We teach students to sing a Chinese song, for example, a Chinese rap song, to help them retain the vocabulary and make it fun,” Pan said.


    Last year, the program was held at SUNY Oswego’s Syracuse campus (the Atrium).


    Pan said having the program on the SUNY Oswego campus offers more opportunities to learn outdoors.


    Pan said the only thing needed from students and parents is an interest in learning and a commitment to full attendance.


    “I think many young people want to get into STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) but language could be an asset on top of that,” he said. “It exposes you to a totally different world and culture.”


    Cultural advantage: People all over the world speak English and in most places, you can find someone who can communicate with you in English, Pan said. But he cautioned that this has consequences: “Our young people overlook the fact that if you can use their languages to communicate with people elsewhere around the globe, no matter how choppy it is, people feel they are respected. You are making an effort to learn their language, culture and communicate with them. That immediately builds a bridge to help you get ahead.”


    Pan said in communities today, there is a tendency not to look beyond the community’s immediate boundaries. “This program tries to engage young people in a quite unfamiliar culture and language. Hopefully they will get interested and will continue,” he said.


    STARTALK is not only looking to make a local impact, but is also seeking community support to help sustain students’ continuing language and cultural endeavors.


    Pan is a native of Taiwan. While Chinese is Taiwan’s native language, English is required for all students from the seventh grade to sophomore level in college. There are obviously major differences between Chinese and English and new learners might be apprehensive, but Pan was reassuring. “The grammar is quite similar, he said, “except that Chinese does not use gender or tense.”


    For more information or to apply, visit Applicants can complete an online application form or mail in an application form to STARTALK: Chinese Language and Culture Summer Camp, 433 Mahar Hall, SUNY Oswego, Oswego, NY 13126.


    For more information, including direction and parking information, email or leave a message at 315-312-3271.