COLUMBIA — Six Columbia teachers have moved from the front of the classroom to student desks to learn Chinese this year.
The MU Confucius Institute formalized a new partnership with Columbia Public Schools at a ceremony in Memorial Union on Friday. Launched in April 2011 at MU, the institute is a nonprofit organization focused on teaching Chinese language and culture.
Under the partnership, the Confucius Institute will train the six district teachers in Chinese language and culture and provide three instructors from China to assist those teachers in their own language training and in their first year teaching Chinese to students in Columbia Public Schools. Later, more teachers will be trained.
Chinese language classes will be offered beginning in seventh grade at Gentry, Lange and Smithton middle schools as well as at Jefferson, West and Oakland junior high schools next fall, said district spokeswoman Michelle Baumstark. The district hopes to eventually expand the program to high schools.
Next fall, students will have access to new Chinese language material and books, as well as after-school cultural programs.
In the meantime, the six public school teachers have a lot to learn.
John Becker, a Spanish teacher at Lange Middle School and Oakland Junior High School, is participating in the year-long training. He and the other participants meet two nights a week to focus on Chinese culture and language learning.
Becker said after two weeks of training he enjoys how different the language is.
Chinese does not have a phonetic structure in which words can be sounded out. Instead, students must memorize written characters and Pinyin, the official spelling system of Chinese.
"The process of switching my experience from teacher to learner has been eye- opening," said Erica Borcherding, a teacher at Lange Middle School. "It gives me a new perspective on the way students learn foreign language."
Handy Williamson Jr., vice provost of MU's International Programs, said Friday that schools throughout Missouri have expressed an interest in the institute's Chinese program and that he expects the program to grow.
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