Language learning speaks volumes for new understanding

Updated: 2013-08-02 09:00

By Cui Jia in Urumqi (China Daily)

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The star teacher

Behind the most popular course at the school, there's a star teacher. Chen Yuhua, 51, has developed her own teaching methods, based on her experiences as a teacher during the 30 years since she graduated from Xinjiang University with a degree in Uygur studies.

Language learning speaks volumes for new understanding

Chen Yuhua, 51, gives an intensive, 20-day Uygur language course for community workers in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region. Photos by Yao Tong / for China Daily

Although the training school employs three teachers of Uygur, Chen is training a new teacher who will soon be qualified to join the team. That will allow the school to recruit more students. As it stands, Chen has to teach more than eight hours every day just to keep up with the demand for classes.

Two other private training institutions, Sanlian and Tianxiang, also provide Uygur lessons, but they are in the same boat as Xinzhou; a dearth of qualified teachers means both have long waiting lists.

"Many teachers allow students to write Chinese characters that are phonetically similar to the sounds of the Uygur words in their textbooks, so they will have a guide to pronunciation, but that's something I strictly prohibit in my class," said Chen, her voice husky after many hours of teaching.

She said some people are surprised to see a Han Chinese teaching Uygur, but she regards being Han as an advantage: "I know the words non-native speakers have difficulty pronouncing, and I know how to master them because I've been there myself. Plus, I think my Uygur is almost as good as native speakers after more than 30 years' practice."

No matter whether students sign up for a short, intensive training course or a full year, Chen always begins by teaching them the 32 letters of the Uygur alphabet and makes sure they can pronounce each one perfectly before moving on. To set a good example, she always pronounces the letters with great emphasis. It's easy for visitors to identify Chen's class among the maze of rooms in the school - all they have to do is to follow her loud voice. "Some people have even asked if the school will soon offer voice-training classes," she laughed.