Dr. Hill and students

Wofford has local students talking

Students receive first-rate instruction in Chinese language and culture

Startalk 382 2016

For Dr. Yongfang Zhang, assistant professor in Chinese at Wofford, the value of learning a foreign language is critical to young students.

“Today is a globalized time,” Zhang says, “and we have to try to understand the values of others so we can better communicate with citizens of other cultures and better understand ourselves.”

In 2013 Zhang launched the STARTALK program at Wofford, joining a nationwide effort to increase the number of students enrolled in the study of critical-need languages. The program also was designed to increase the number of highly effective teachers, materials and curricula available to grade-school students in the United States.

At Wofford the two-week summer intensive program is open to middle and high school students from across the Southeast. Students must be passionate about the language and motivated to learn to be considered for acceptance. While at camp students learn to speak, write and think in Chinese by taking classes in the mornings then participating in cultural activities in the afternoons. Some of those activities include learning and experiencing calligraphy, art, music, dance and drama.

“In the Southeast there aren’t many grade schools that offer Chinese. So STARTALK is a fantastic opportunity for students to learn at one of the best colleges for Chinese language in the country,” says Zhang.

The program also included a one-week teacher development session before camp started.

“We provide teacher development because we want to advance the profession," says Zhang. "Everyone on the team, even very experienced teachers, studies the STARTALK-endorsed principles and learns to apply the principles in the curriculum.”

Through a federal grant Wofford covers the cost of the program. Tuition is free for students, and transportation between Greenville and the college is provided without charge as well. For Zhang, accessibility is the most rewarding part of the program.

“The parents are so eager for their children to learn Chinese,” she says. “That’s very touching to us. It motivates us to offer more programs and to do even more work to make STARTALK as accessible as possible to local children.”

Soon Zhang hopes to offer continued learning to students who want to keep working with the program during the academic year.

“You have to be realistic,” Zhang says. “You have to motivate children to learn Chinese elsewhere. People want to come to Wofford for the rigorous Chinese program, but it is a big commitment. We have to get creative if we want to be a resource to all students.”

by J. Andrew Levin, Wofford Class of 2016