WestConn Chinese and Portuguese classes reflect global trends
Courses offer language training and cultural insights reflecting a changing world

DANBURY, CONN. — In a world where emerging powers such as China and Brazil play an increasingly important role in the global economy, Western Connecticut State University is providing students with the opportunity to gain an introduction to the languages and cultural heritage of these influential nations.

The WCSU department of world languages and literature will offer an introductory course sequence in Chinese, as well as two Portuguese sequences at the introductory and intermediate levels, during the fall 2010 semester. Department Chairperson and Associate Professor of World Languages and Literature Dr. Galina Bakhtiarova observed that inclusion of these sequences in the WestConn curriculum recognizes the need to raise awareness of Chinese- and Portuguese-speaking nations’ significance in the world’s future economic and cultural development.

“Our objective when we teach introductory language courses at WestConn is to enable our students to communicate effectively in the target-language environment,” Bakhtiarova explained. “In all our language classes, we incorporate listening, speaking, teaching and writing skills, and we also provide a very strong cultural element.”

She noted Brazil and China, along with India and Russia, are recognized as major emerging markets that exert growing influence in the global economy. “China has become one of the most powerful nations in the world in recent years in trade and politics,” she said, “so communication with China is absolutely imperative.”

Enrollment in the intermediate-level sequence of the Portuguese curriculum, introduced for the fall semester, filled quickly due to strong demand from students of Portuguese and Brazilian heritage, reflecting the large representation of these ethnic groups in the Greater Danbury community. In contrast to the two-semester introductory sequences that assume no prior exposure to the language studied, the Portuguese for Heritage Speakers curriculum will be designed specifically for students whose families continue to speak Portuguese at home.

“With our Portuguese classes,” Bakhtiarova explained, “we need to reach out to the community and help students to learn how to read and write the language, and to learn the literature and culture, of the countries from which their parents and grandparents came.”

The instructor for both the introductory and intermediate Portuguese sequences will be Dr. Jordano Quaglia. Quaglia joins WestConn with extensive experience in Portuguese instruction at the State University of New York at Albany, Fairfield University and Yale University, where he has taught all Portuguese language levels as well as bridge courses linked to the literature curriculum.

Quaglia said the new courses at WestConn will emphasize knowledge of Brazilian and Continental Portuguese, reinforced by immersion in the language, culture and civilization of peoples of Portuguese heritage. He explained these goals will be achieved through intensive feedback in written assignments, as well as integration of music, dance and video as tools to promote education about the Brazilian and Portuguese cultures.

Instructor Yu Lian offered the two-semester introductory course in Chinese at WestConn for the first time during the 2009-10 academic year. A native of Beijing who emigrated to the United States in 2001, Lian earned a master’s degree in education at Columbia University and has taught at the Huaxia Chinese School, which offers a weekend program of language and cultural enrichment classes on the Midtown campus for children and teens of Chinese heritage. She holds teaching certification in Connecticut and has been a full-time teacher at a Bridgeport high school for the past two years.

A visit to Lian’s class near the end of the spring 2010 term found students engaged in a spirited and brisk dialogue using Chinese terms applied to currency exchange and the buying and selling of goods. A query of “Duo shao qian?” (“How much?”) repeated by the class offered the opportunity to practice Chinese replies in a variety of renminbi currency denominations. As they passed around paper currency notes bearing the image of the late Chinese leader Mao Zedong, class members learned the prevailing exchange rate at the time was 6.8 renminbi to one U.S. dollar, and picked up useful phrases for negotiating with street merchants such as “Pian yi dian er!” (“Give me a lower price!”) and “Tai gui le!” (“Too expensive!”)

Accessing the Internet on her laptop computer, Lian projected images of the opening ceremony for the Expo 2010 world’s fair in Shanghai, which will run from May 1 to Oct. 31 on the exhibition grounds along the banks of the Huangpu River in the city center. Images of brilliant fireworks, dancers in traditional Chinese costumes, and exhibition pavilions provided opportunities to learn and pronounce Chinese characters evoking images from the Expo 2010 scenes such as “yan hua” – literally, “smoke flower,” the term used for “fireworks.”

Lian expressed pride in her students’ enthusiasm for learning the language and culture of her native China. She makes a point of taking the educational experience beyond the classroom by planning class participation in special cultural activities to learn more about Chinese arts, history, sports and cuisine, as well as a traditional celebration of the Chinese New Year.

“Our whole class went out to dinner at a local Chinese restaurant as a ‘field trip,’ and we learned many terms for common foods and phrases useful to know when you go out to eat,” she said. “We had so much fun together learning the language throughout the year. That’s one of my goals in teaching the language — learning while having fun!

“The students in this class have been very self-motivated and excited about learning Chinese,” she added. “Sometimes they are more eager to take the quizzes than I am to give them!”

Lian said one of the most important lessons her students have learned is that Chinese — while very different from English in its use of characters and pronunciation — is not so difficult to learn. “The writing system may seem difficult, but much of this writing came from picture drawings when the language was invented so, based on the image of the character, you may know what it means,” she said. “The grammar is simple and, in Chinese, there are no tenses or conjugations.

“I had one student who told me, ‘Everyone said Chinese is so difficult, but it’s not true — I loved it! I keep telling my friends to learn it — they say it’s hard only because they have never tried it,’” she added.

“Every day, when a student leaves my class, I want to know that he or she has learned something new about China,” Lian said. “If I can share my enthusiasm with them and get them excited to know more about Chinese language and culture, then they will become motivated to continue learning Chinese after they leave my class.”

For more information, contact Bakhtiarova at bakhtiarg@wcsu.edu or the WCSU Office of University Relations at (203) 837-8486.

Western Connecticut State University offers outstanding faculty in a range of quality academic programs. Our diverse university community provides students an enriching and supportive environment that takes advantage of the unique cultural offerings of Western Connecticut and New York. Our vision: To be an affordable public university with the characteristics of New England’s best small private universities.


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