Each time Grace Duisberg, age 10, walked into Murkland Hall last summer she tried her best not to speak any English.
"We knew from the start that zao shang hao meant 'Good morning,'" says Duisberg, "and as soon as we heard that we knew it was time to switch."
Duisberg and her 23 classmates could use hand gestures and flashcards and, in a pickle, resort to their native tongue, but their laoshi, or native Chinesespeaking instructor, encouraged them to stick to Mandarin for all four weeks of UNH's first Chinese language day camp last summer.
Made possible by a $72,000 federal grant from Startalk, the camp promoted not only linguistic skills but cultural understanding as well. "In the 21st century we have to have students understanding these places," says Chris Reardon, an associate professor of political science.
UNH will take a substantial step toward greater understanding with its new Confucius Institute, a partnership between Chengdu University and the university that will kick off in October.
The institute will provide UNH students access to a complete curriculum in Chinese. In addition, UNH will work with K-12 schools in the state, as well as other colleges in the university system, to help them establish Chinese language programs. Currently teachers in New Hampshire who want to get certified to teach Chinese have to leave the state to do it.
At the camp, students ages 10 to 17 studied Mandarin, a notoriously difficult language, every day for two and a half hours. To leaven the mix—it was, after all, summer, and they were, after all, kids—they made Chinese food for lunch, including dumplings, noodles, scallion pancakes and egg rolls. In the afternoon they tried T'ai Chi and Kung Fu, learned Chinese brush painting and calligraphy, sang Chinese songs and read poetry.
Duisberg found that studying Mandarin led to some humorous moments. "It got pretty funny sometimes," she says. "Ma means both mother and horse, depending on which tone you use, and people would end up talking about their 'horse' when they meant their mother."
But as an immersion program, the camp succeeded: "It felt at moments like I didn't need English anymore, like I could just throw my English out the window," she says. After a while she started thinking in Chinese. In a grocery store, she found herself apologizing in Chinese (dui bu qi) and then apologizing again in English for apologizing in Chinese. Just one of the happy hurdles of learning a new language.Return to UNH Magazine Campus Currents