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Language department offers Chinese class

Students in Mills College’s new Chinese course take away some laughs as well as Mandarin from Dr. Chiu-Hung Chen, professor of two elementary classes. (Chantelle Panackia)

In past years, the Language Department at Mills College has only offered Spanish and French as languages available for study.

But, after an extensive search for  an appropriate professor, it has added a Mandarin Chinese course this semester, taught by Dr. Chiu-Hung Chen.

Chen  moved to the Bay Area from Florida two months ago, where she was the Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of Miami. Although the Bay Area has been known as a cultural hub for many Asian immigrants and Asian American families, Chen is still adjusting to to the culture shock of the San Francisco Bay.

“I’m still in the process of exploring the Bay Area, but the Language Department has been very welcoming and supportive!” Chen said. “Thanks to their help, the transition to Mills has been a very pleasant experience so far and I’m excited to continue working here.”

Chen has been a Chinese instructor for five years. She knew she wanted to become a teacher from her experiences in school as a child.

“I’ve encountered several great teachers when I was at school and they have made a huge impact in my life. I intended to become a teacher because I hope to provide the best experience to my students just as my teachers have done for me,” she said.

With Chen’s goal to provide the ultimate learning experience for her students, she also has short and long-term goals she hopes to complete while at Mills.

“My short-term goal is to build a language program that provides students with a solid training in both language skills and cultural communicative competence,” Chen said. “Knowing and understanding the culture from where a language is derived from is important. This allows the students to create a more genuine connection to the language. In addition to the language program offered on campus, the Language Department also wants to launch a faculty-led summer study abroad program in China that would provide students with total immersion of cultural and linguistic experience. My long-term goal is to establish a minor and then a major in Chinese Studies.”

Apart from the apparent differences in culture, Chen is also having an interesting time adjusting to the environment on the Mills campus.

“Teaching classes at an all women’s college is a very unique experience for me, especially in terms of the Language Department. I have only taught three classes so far, but I can already see that most of  my students are learning at a more similarly paced rate compared to co-educational classes. I expect this to make a huge difference in the development of my curriculum. I’m very anxious to see their progress throughout the semester! I teach two separate Elementary Level Chinese classes and they both have been doing very well so far.”

The  number of students in both of Chen’s Elementary Chinese classes is about 15, which is par for the course for most classes at Mills.

“This is the perfect size for a language class. Students have an adequate amount of time to practice the language by actually being able to interact with their peers, which is important.”

Chen is extremely optimistic about the progress of her classes and those to come. Both classes are currently working on the four tones of Chinese, which are similar to our inflections in English, and the phonetic system pinyin. Mastering the tones and pinyin is difficult to say the least, but it has been a more than pleasant experience for Chen’s students.

“This language is very foreign to my classes, but it has been bringing my students closer together. They are becoming so comfortable interacting in Chinese and we have been sharing a lot of laughs! My favorite thing about teaching is seeing the sparkle in students’ eyes when they slowly start to realize they can actually communicate in one of the most difficult languages in the world.”