Chinese language class
As China's role in the global economy and political structure grows, interest in its language and culture has also increased.
Last year, local resident Tom Faix tried to spur interest in bringing a Chinese language program to Detroit Lakes Public Schools, by organizing a public informational meeting -- and five people came.
This Thursday, Faix tried again -- and this time, there were 15 people there.
As further evidence that interest is growing, about 40 Detroit Lakes High School students have signed up for a Mandarin Chinese course that may be offered next year -- depending on funds and teacher availability.
At Thursday's meeting, Faix said that the Detroit Lakes community has shown that it is very supportive of its youth, as the community center announced plans recently for a $2.5 million expansion known as The Backyard, which will incorporate a Kids' Playland and interactive fitness area.
"Can we raise $20,000 to bring a Chinese teacher here? I think we can," he said.
Also at the meeting, Fergus Falls Chinese teacher Menghui Yan Andrews gave a presentation on the basics of the language.
Andrews noted that the basic difference between English and Chinese is that English is an alphabetic language, while Chinese is pictographic.
"Chinese words come from pictures," she said.
In teaching the language to those who do not speak Chinese, she said, "we borrow your letters to show how to pronounce words."
However, Andrews added, "the charm of the Chinese word is in the images."
The written Chinese language, Andrews continued, has about 250 root words, or radicals.
From those radicals, she said, you can form larger, more complex words and sentences. But if you learn the radicals, understanding the language becomes much easier.
It's the spoken word that is more difficult.
"All China uses one language -- but we have more than 100 dialects," Andrews said.
The most predominant dialect is Mandarin, she added -- which is why that is the dialect used in most Chinese language classes.
Andrews came to work as a K-12 Chinese language instructor in Fergus Falls in 2009, after the district received a $185,000 grant from the Confucius Institute at the University of Minnesota.
The grant is for $31,000 annually for five years and $30,000 in start-up costs, plus an additional $1,000 in Chinese language materials. The grant allowed the school district to bring in Andrews to teach Mandarin to both elementary and secondary students, and to continue sponsoring Chinese cultural activities in the community.
The Minnesota Department of Education has been encouraging school districts statewide to consider adding a Chinese program, Detroit Lakes Superintendent Doug Froke said earlier this month.
State officials have also been working with Hanban, the Chinese Language Council International in Beijing, on an agreement to bring foreign exchange teachers to the state. And the state is also offering a $12,000 annual incentive to participating districts to offset the costs of the program, Froke added.
But the district would have to come up with about $28,000 annually to hire the teacher, purchase the materials and sustain the program.
As he said at Thursday's meeting, Faix is hopeful that Detroit Lakes will be able to start up a similar program in the near future.