In the past, if Carroll County students wanted to study a foreign language, they had the option of Spanish, French or Latin; however, that all changed this year with the addition of Chinese to the curriculum.
Shirly Liu, a native of Beijing, China, has the task of teaching students a language seldom heard in this area, and, so far, she is very pleased with her students’ effort in the classroom.
“I love the kids, they are so polite. They are self-motivated, and want to learn,” said Liu, who also has high praise for the staff at the high school. “Everyone has been really, really supportive. They’ve helped me do paperwork, find housing, and are always asking me if I’m okay. My colleagues and co-workers are very generous.”
Lui began studying English in the third grade, eventually deciding to major in the language in high school. After getting her bachelor’s degree in English from the Northern University of Technology in Beijing, she came to the United States, where she earned a master’s degree in English from New York University. After graduation, she was a third-grade elementary dual-Chinese teacher.
“Some of my students were immigrants and some were born here, but they didn’t speak both English and Chinese,” said Liu.
Even some of those that spoke Chinese, spoke Cantonese, rather than Mandarin, which is the standard Chinese language, added Liu.
Although she has studied English for quite some time, Liu said she didn’t really learn to speak the language until she came to the U.S.
“After coming here, I started learning real English,” said Liu, adding that there is a vast difference between English and Chinese.
“English and Chinese are totally different, especially with grammar,” said Liu. “Chinese does not really have grammar as does English.”
As part of her teaching, Liu plans to work in the cultural aspects of the Chinese people, such as the Mid-Autumn Festival (Zhongqiu), which is devoted to lunar worship and moon watching.
“The festival is a little like America’s Thanksgiving. Everyone gathers together and eats mooncake,” said Liu, who has been joined in Hillsville by her mother, Wang Liu.
Mooncakes are round or rectangular pastries with a rich, thick filling usually containing red bean or lotus seed paste which is surrounded by a thin crust. The mooncakes may also contain yolks from salted duck eggs.
Liu said she would also introduce students to rice paper and calligraphy, the Chinese form of writing, which is the oldest continuously used system of writing in the world. Chinese characters number in the tens of thousands and functional literacy in written Chinese requires knowledge of between three and four thousand characters.
Another difference between China and the U.S. Liu has found interesting involves the roadways.
“In China the roads are really flat, but here all the roads are like rollercoasters,” she said.
Despite that, Liu said she couldn’t be happier.
“This is a great place to live. Everyone is so relaxed.”