SF language school adapts to the times

By Chang Jun in San Francisco | China Daily USA | Updated: 2017-09-06 10:27

SF language school adapts to the times

When 9-year-old Liang Zhuolan started learning Chinese two years ago, she barely knew anything of China other than that it's the country of origin for her immigrant parents.

Now a first grader in Nam Kue School, established in 1920 in San Francisco's Chinatown, Liang excels among 20 peers at Chinese proficiency. She not only speaks fluently, but also can write neatly in Chinese.

"I can recite many Chinese poems and recognize thousands of simplified Chinese characters," said Liang, as she pointed to a lesson she was learning. The textbook she uses is published by Jinan University in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, one of the most reputable publishing houses specializing in Chinese-language study materials.

"We take efforts to make sure our materials, methods and philosophy for teaching Chinese at Nam Kue keep abreast with our counterparts in China," said Tan Lin, the principal who took over the post at the afternoon school since 2013. "Our 1,000-strong students from kindergarten to 12th grade and their parents are counting on us."

Leading a school of 97 years of history toward modernization and advancing it into a more sophisticated center for Chinese culture, Tan admits the mission is tedious, but she always seeks strength from the founders of the school to proceed.

In the late 1910s, a group of Chinese immigrants from Nanhai, Guangdong province, who had settled in San Francisco, endeavored to establish a school to teach their children Chinese language and culture.

SF language school adapts to the times

Through donations and crowd-funding led by the Fook Yum Benevolent Society and many small-business owners since 1919, Nam Kue School took shape.

"There was only one classroom, one Cantonese-speaking teacher and approximately 20 to 30 students enrolled in the first year," said Tan, adding that Nam Kue means "school for Nanhai American-Chinese descendants" in Cantonese.

The school kept expanding in enrollment and classroom size. In 1926, on a $100,000 budget and with support from the Chinese-American community, Nam Kue completed construction of its new buildings on 755 Sacramento Street, nestled under the shade of cypress and banyan trees.

"The school's connection with China has never discontinued no matter what," said Chi Peiying, a second-grade teacher originally from Guangdong province. "The bonding with Chinese culture is all-time strong.

"Seventeen years ago, we decided to switch our textbooks from traditional Chinese and Cantonese to Chinese Mandarin," said Chi, adding that many parents have urged the school to adopt simplified Chinese characters.

"Nowadays, learning Chinese is not about self-interest; it's a skill that you'd better acquire," said Tan.

"What we are doing at Nam Kue today is to equip our children with this skill set, then their chances for success tomorrow will be bigger."

The school offers 45 Chinese-language classes and six extracurricular classes around the theme of tradition, culture and social norms.

The year-round curriculum featuring calligraphy, martial arts, self-defense, musical instruments and traditional dance, plus a fun-filled summer camp with programs run by professionals from China.

"Our students have pen pals in China, and they exchange holiday greetings through mails and postcards," Tan said.


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