Made for Mandarin

Zhenzhen Zhang opens up Mandarin I, a course concentrated on studying the Chinese language and culture.


photo by Lukas Goodwin

Zhang explains the directions to a calligraphy activity the class is doing. Calligraphy is a traditional art form popular in China.

With the vast selection of world language courses available to students, from Spanish to French to American Sign Language, adding one more to the list might seem like too much. Several others are available online, including German and Italian, but the lack of a physical teacher and a classroom setting can be intimidating for many students.

Starting this year, geometry teacher Zhenzhen Zhang decided to make a change, and introduce Mandarin as an on-campus class. Currently, Mandarin I is the only option, but the curriculum for future years, Mandarin II, III, IV, and AP Mandarin, is still in the early stages of planning.

Despite the newness, Zhang has been eager to open up the course. Growing up in China, Zhang moved to the U.S. around 2015, where she has been teaching ever since. She already had experience with teaching Mandarin at Freedom High School, in Orange County, but this is her first time teaching it here.

“When I first started teaching Chinese, I didn’t get that many students… We did not do a very good job advertising Chinese,” Zhang said. “But coming into this year, I was like, ‘Okay, I know what to do that is right, I know what to do that works well and I know what to avoid.”

Zhang hopes to make this year as engaging and interesting as possible for her students. Beyond teaching the basic foundations of the language, like vocabulary, grammar and numbers, she wants to emphasize Chinese culture in her lessons.

Zhang follows through with this goal by creating projects every nine weeks. The first one will be chalk art in the courtyard that incorporates illustrations of Chinese characters, symbolism and other cultural aspects from Chinese cities. Following this, the second project will give students the opportunity to cook ethnic dishes, the third will study Chinese film and the fourth will concentrate on music. 

Students who enrolled in the course enjoy the material in the class, and are passionate to study the language and culture. Many would expect Mandarin to be a challenging language to learn, as it does not rely on the Latin alphabet like the English language; however, Zhang is making sure to accommodate for this by introducing the essential components of Mandarin at a gradual pace.

“The rich culture that China has… truly made it interesting to me,” said junior Robert Alvarez, one of the many students new to the language. “The course has been lovely so far.”

Despite the course content being new and potentially difficult, students like sophomore Olivia Rommel have appreciated the class. Many are seizing the chance to be challenged.

“It’s really interesting and fun. It’s worthwhile. It’s especially nice to learn it along with other beginners,” Rommel said.

Along with starting up the Chinese class, Zhang has continued as the club sponsor for the Asian Culture Club, which is co-run by juniors Zoey Young and Eileen An. The club invites all students, Asian or not, every other Monday after school to discuss various cultural aspects from different Asian countries. Some activities in the past have included origami lessons, an “Asian Thanksgiving” and lantern making.

Additionally, Zhang will be hosting a trip to China in the summer of 2020 via EF Tours. The trip will spend eight days in Beijing, where students can visit the Great Wall of China, the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace and many other tourist attractions. The tour will then take a bullet train to Shanghai for another two days to visit more famous spots.

“We will have a deeper cultural tour, instead of just rushing between cities,” Zhang said.

An informational meeting with more information on the trip was held in the media center on Sept. 11. Those who missed the meeting should see Zhang in her classroom, at 6-214.

Whether students plan to take the trip to China, or just take the class or even join the club, Zhang hopes to bring a new wave of Asian culture to the campus.