Chinese Corner is the all-purpose name for gatherings where students of Chinese gather to practice or learn usually with native speakers. They run the gamut from sophisticated presentations to casual meet ups. Recently I’ve been going to the Chinese Corner at Seattle Central Community College near the Chinese Garden. This one is for beginners, with an emphasis on Chinese culture, but I have the chance to speak and listen, which is great. A critical problem I have trying to learn Mandarin in Seattle is lack of folks to speak with and listen to. So I come to this Chinese Corner whenever I can, even though its late afternoon time is often not convenient.
Among the attendees this past quarter were John and Viola, who hadn’t one word of Chinese between them. Ni hao, I said. Why do you want to come to Chinese Corner? I asked.
“We are adopting a baby from China,” they explained. Why from China? I asked. Several of her family members had Asian babies, Viola said, adding it was a practical decision based on an factors like cost, access to medical records and how many weeks you had to stay in the country when picking up the child.
“It’s very complicated,” she said. “We’ve been trying to adopt for a couple of years.”
“We could hear as early as Monday,” she continued, “but certainly over the quarter.” Gong xi gong xi (congratulations). But as it turned out their smiles turned to frowns, as of the last class still no adoption.
Another person, Leslie, was there with her two daughters, the older a freshman in high school who was “wild for learning Chinese.” Chinese was one of her school’s language electives and she started this year, for no special reason. Now she loves it. “She wanted to be an exchange student this year but I was nervous about her going to China and said no,” said mom. “Maybe next year.”
Stephanie was there with her 2-year-old son. The toddler was going to daycare three times a week, speaking Spanish in the morning and Chinese in the afternoon. Stephanie said her son loved to sing in Chinese and she wanted to be able to help and maybe sing with him.
“Doesn’t that confuse him, having three languages in a day?” I asked. “Spanish, English and Chinese?”
Yes, it does, she said, but the principal said by the time he graduates preschool it will all straighten out, and he would be truly tri-lingual.
With all these Seattle youngsters on the path to learning Chinese, students of the future should have plenty of people to practice with.