Thanks to the 2010 establishment of a Confucius Classroom at Pellissippi State Community College, students pursuing an Associate of Arts degree may now choose a series of courses in Mandarin Chinese to satisfy their foreign language requirement.
With nearly a billion primary- or first-language speakers, Mandarin Chinese is the most widely spoken language in the world, according to geographer Matt Rosenberg. Chinese is the third most widely spoken in American homes, a 2009 census reports.
The first two classes offered last spring through Pellissippi State’s Confucius Classroom were “Beginning Chinese I” and “Peoples and Culture of China.” Long before registration ended, the language class was full. Many of the students who were fortunate enough to land a space in the inaugural “Beginning Chinese I” are now completing “Beginning Chinese II.”
Bethany Tomkins, who is pursuing an A.A. degree at Pellissippi State, is one such student. Tomkins tackled Chinese equipped with three years of Latin and two of French from high school, as well as two semesters of college-level French.
“For me, learning Chinese is both fun and practical,” she said. “My husband is British, but he grew up in Hong Kong. I have traveled to Hong Kong, once after taking the Chinese class.
“Even though the languages and characters are not exactly the same, I could still read most of the signs in Hong Kong. I couldn’t do that on our previous trips there.”
Tomkins, who works full time and attends Pellissippi State part time, also values the business benefits of learning Chinese.
“Knowing Chinese really opens doors,” she said. “I work in Oak Ridge, and even here, there are times when we are speaking with people overseas. An increase in the need of support for Mandarin-speaking clients would not surprise me.”
Like Tomkins, Pellissippi State student Matthew Henderson had a solid background in foreign languages when he enrolled in “Beginning Chinese I.” The Hardin Valley Academy graduate had taken Chinese in high school and had studied five languages, including sign, at Pellissippi State.
Henderson, who is preparing for a career as an interpreter, says that Chinese is not as difficult to learn as some might think.
“Once you get used to the characters,” said Henderson, “it’s exponentially easier to learn Chinese than it is to learn some other languages. You can get the general gist of what the characters mean. It’s really fun.”
Henderson has high praise for the college’s instructor, Qiao Gui-qiang, who is also known as “Freeman.”
“You can’t not like him,” Henderson said. “He’s fantastic. He is easygoing, and he helps you individually. I also like that the Chinese class is smaller than most other language classes.
“In the U.S., we usually don’t have many choices when it comes to studying a language. It’s great to be able to study Chinese here. I’m a giant advocate of the class.”
So too is Ryan McDonald, a Pellissippi State student in French. He enrolled in Chinese last spring to obtain an expanded sense of linguistics. Now that he is almost finished with the second level of beginning Chinese, he anticipates using his skills in a variety of ways.
“I’ll probably use Chinese for fun, travel and perhaps even in my career,” said McDonald. “I had a great time in the first level, and I like the fact that we have the same teacher for the second portion. In class, we spend equal time speaking, reading and writing. Our instructor makes it fun.”
The Confucius Classroom is the result of a prestigious grant made to the college by the Confucius Institute at the University of Memphis. Pellissippi State is the only community college in Tennessee to receive a grant for the establishment of a Confucius Classroom.
For spring 2012, Pellissippi State is adding “Intermediate Chinese I.” By fall 2012, “Intermediate Chinese II” also will be offered. For students who qualify, scholarships are available to study Chinese language and culture in China.
Classes for spring 2012 begin on Jan. 12. The application deadline is Jan. 5.
To obtain further information about the Chinese language and culture courses, as well as about scholarships, visit www.pstcc.edu or call (865) 694-6400.