Languages Department hosts series of informal learning sessions
Capilano University offers a plethora of services for students learning English as a second language, but for native English speakers, it can be hard to practice a foreign language enough to maintain it.
This spring, the Languages Department will be hosting informal workshops outside of class time – available for students, faculty and staff with a rousing curiosity about the four foreign languages taught at CapU.
Languages instructor Tong Chow explained that the idea to invite more people to learn about the Languages Department came from the French teachers. Originally, it was planned that a French Soiree would be hosted one evening, but they concluded that an informal event held during the universal lunch hour would draw more students. “We used to have a Languages Department gathering for all languages, that was a couple of years ago, but we found that this time it works better if it’s dedicated to that one language so students can focus,” she said.
Thus far, the Languages Department has hosted a French Café, Hispanic Cafeteria and a Japanese Kissa. On Wednesday, Apr. 5, Chow will facilitate a Chinese Chágua˘n at 11:45 am in room 117 of the Arbutus building. Chágua˘n is the name of a play published by Chinese novelist Lao She in 1957 and its also the Mandarin word for teahouse, which is the environment Chow wishes to model.
She explained that as an instructor, she wants to stand back and let students practice speaking the language and explore the stations without her interference. For that reason, she and her language lab associate, Joan Li, will be serving tea throughout the session.
Unlike a language lab, an additional hour to class instruction where students practice their speaking skills, students with little or no experience can practice the basics with more experienced students. “I think a multi-level language learning or teaching [session], especially if it’s student-centred, will work,” she said. Although speakers will all have varying levels of skill and confidence in their abilities, Chow stressed that having a relaxing atmosphere where students can try to make their first pronunciations at the encouragement of their peers – rather than an instructor who is well-versed – or practice speaking to one another, is a better foundation to begin building a new vocabulary.
“Many people think that Chinese is a very challenging language to say the least,” she said. “We want to expose people to the language and get them to overcome that fear of learning.” It’s the Chinese characters that scare beginners, but the grammar is simpler than that of any Romance language according to Chow. Writing words out in the English alphabet and saying them out loud is actually quite simple.
“There’s also diversity in the Chinese ethnic culture, mainly between Mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong or local overseas Chinese. We have a very strong, vibrant Chinese community or communities in North America,” she said, adding that knowing a language like Mandarin is especially useful in a city like Vancouver, where it’s an impressive addition to any resume, and in some cases even necessary.
She also wants to provide students with the opportunity to learn more about Chinese culture, and will provide fortune cookies and dumplings, recipes, and have a calligraphy station set up where students can try their hands at the brush strokes.
Chow has taught at CapU for 20 years and facilitates four Chinese courses at the 100 and 200 level. The Languages Department hopes to host more informal language cafes in the future. Chow, who is also the co-coordinator of the department, plans to raise the topic at their next meeting on Apr. 6. Until then, the Chágua˘n is open to all students and faculty interested in learning about the Chinese culture and language.
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