Confucius Institute Helps Children, Families Adapt
Classes Reconnect Kids Adopted from China with Native Language and Culture
Jan. 12, 2010
The girls were so eager to show off the Chinese they had just learned that they were barely able to stay in their seats.
“OK, let’s settle down now. It’s time to do your presentations,” said Li Yang, their instructor.
They were on the UT Dallas campus for ongoing lessons in Chinese language, history and culture. For the past year, the Confucius Institute has offered the classes to a network of 500 to 1,000 families in the Dallas-Fort Worth area who have adopted children from China.
“When our network approached the Confucius Institute about these classes, they were extremely gracious and said they’d love to do it. Not only that, but they said they would love to have the families involved,” said Jenny Colombo. She and her husband, Jim, have four adopted Chinese children, ages 5 to 12. The entire family is enrolled in the program, including Bernadette (Jin Dan), age 8, who is enrolled in Yang’s class.
Yang led Bernadette and her classmates through a quick review of that day’s lesson, which required associating the pronunciation of words for family members – such as mother, father, grandmother and grandfather – with their equivalent Mandarin characters and then using these characters in several sentences.
After the review each of the girls, ranging in age from 7 to 11, took a turn at the front of the classroom, reciting their newly mastered words. Their presentations brimmed with the barely controlled exuberance of students enjoying their learning experience.
Currently there are two children’s classes and one class for parents and teens. Since most of the children were adopted and brought to the U.S. as infants, they are unlikely to remember their birth places and were too young to have ever verbalized in their native language. By participating in these classes, they learn not only bilingual skills but also an understanding of their Chinese identity and a sense of their ancestry.
Their parents and American siblings benefit from the lessons, too, by gaining familiarity with Chinese language and heritage. This knowledge equips both parents and children with the tools necessary to navigate family life and celebrate both Chinese and American cultures.
“We’re learning both language and culture,” said Jim Colombo. “More or less, the classes involve understanding the differences between the American culture in which they’re growing up and the culture that they left. It’s important for them to know because they come from an old social culture, which is China. I think it’s a really important thing for them to at least have an understanding or knowledge base of it.”
The Confucius Institute at UT Dallas was established in fall 2007 to promote the teaching of Chinese language and culture to all who are interested and to serve as a window to Chinese culture, a gateway to Chinese society, a bridge between Texas and China, a hub for cultural, intellectual, business and economic exchanges, and above all, a regional center for Chinese studies. In order to meet the needs of the local communities, the Institute offers a wide range of language instruction and cultural activities.
Students in the age 6 to 11 class relax after their presentations. From left: Bernadette (Jin) Colombo, Claire (Yejin) McCarter, Page (Chunhua ) Powell, Gabrielle (Fuxi) Day and Catherine (Kailin) Day.
“When our network approached the Confucius Institute about these classes, they were extremely gracious and said they’d love to do it. Not only that, but they said they would love to have the families involved,” said Jenny Colombo. She and her husband, Jim, have four adopted Chinese children, ages 5 to 12.