Williams Students Teach High School Chinese

Thanks to two Williams seniors and associate professor of Chinese Li Yu, local high school students can now take introductory Chinese.
Bianca Brown ’14 and Anthony Miceli ’14 co-teach the independent study course Beginning Chinese at Mount Greylock Regional High School. Professor Yu developed the curriculum, basing it on the college’s Chinese 101 course, and trained the Williams students in basic language teaching techniques.

“I feel I owe it to this community to provide Chinese language instruction at the high school level,” says Yu, whose Ph.D. is in Chinese language pedagogy and cultural history. Because many high school programs don’t focus on listening and speaking skills and oftentimes ignore the importance of pronunciation and tones, many American high school students are missing the fundamentals of the language. “We see students coming to Williams from other places with four years of high school Chinese, and they get very frustrated when we place them in 101,” she says.

Yu doesn’t want Greylock students to have a similar experience at the colleges they choose. That’s why she structured the Greylock course to emphasize listening and speaking first, before digging into reading and writing. She wants them to build a solid foundation.

And that foundation is being laid with the same the textbooks—developed by Williams professor Cornelius Kubler—that Williams 101 students use. Textbooks with which Brown and Miceli are very familiar, as they both started their own Chinese language studies at Williams. “I could only say ‘Hello’ in Chinese when I got here,” Brown laughs. But she feels this actually gives her a leg up in teaching, because she can relate to her students “in a way that a native speaker might not be as able.”

Self-study plays an important part, because, as Yu says,  “One of the goals of the program is for students to become more effective language learners.” Brown and Miceli each give one formal class a week, and the high school students spend the class hour working independently the three other days each week. Professor Yu has developed the self-study course work, and Brown and Miceli assess student progress based on class performance and periodic quizzes and tests.

“The students are getting a solid foundation in proper grammar structures, standardized tones, and writing,” says Brown, an Asian studies major. Miceli is impressed with the students’ progress so far this year, and calls the class “a collaborative interaction.”

The program will continue next year, when a new pair of Williams students takes over from the graduating seniors. Now that the structure is in place, Yu hopes to see Greylock students studying Chinese for years to come.

As for Brown and Miceli, they both say their lives have changed this year. “Having this job experience has pushed me to explore teaching after graduation,” says Brown, who is waiting to hear about a Fulbright scholarship to teach in Turkey. Miceli, a math major, hopes to teach high school math in California next year.