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Chinese classes becoming popular choice for Utah students

Stephen Tanner

As the school year comes to an end, many students are signing up for next year’s classes. UPR’s Stephen Tanner tells us how one language class in Lehi is attracting the curious minds of middle school students.  

“At Lehi Junior High School, your not-so-average school bell begins class. Students in this Chinese 1 class stand up and begin to recite Chinese. They then bow to each other and the teacher begins the lesson.  

Chinese classes like this one are beginning to pop up across Utah.    

“Students have been really enthusiastic about it, they’ve been interested."

That’s Lehi Junior High School Chinese teacher Natasha Tanner. She started the Chinese program at the school two years ago.

“I always try to teach my kids to be ‘yǒu bàn fǎ’ students which means students that are problem solvers, that have a can-do attitude”.

After starting the Chinese program from scratch with no students, Natasha now has 168 students signed up for Chinese 1 and Chinese 2 language classes next year.  

Part of that success comes from Chinese immersion programs that can be found in schools across the state. Utah alone has one-third of all Chinese immersion programs in the country.

“Chinese isn’t the easiest language, but I really try to have kids come to class every day with a can-do, problem-solving attitude. More than anything, that’s what I really want them to learn and gain out of Chinese.”

Students like 8th grader Natalie Lyman, finds the simple joys of learning the difficult language. She told me what her favorite part of the language is.

Credit Stephen Tanner
Natasha Tanner teaches a Chinese class at Lehi Junior High.

“Learning new characters probably,” she said. “Each one is like their own little story. They each have a meaning that if you look at one character it may sound the same as a word but it’s a different character and it means something new. So it’s fun to learn a new character because it’s a new challenge.”

Many of the students at Lehi Junior High will go on to Lehi High School, where Chinese teacher Aaron Andersen heads the program.

“The stereotype of high school foreign language classes is that you learn the language, you learn the culture and ten years later, you can’t remember any of the language,” said Andersen. “I want to break that barrier; I want kids to be able to do things in the language after a couple of years of high school.”  

Aaron Andersen’s Chinese students have consistently ranked as some of the best in the state. Recently his students won first place at the Brigham Young University Chinese language fair. He says he understands why Chinese is becoming a popular class to take.  

“There’s a perception that Chinese is an up-and-coming language, whether for business reasons or the concern that China is a growing superpower and that we will need to communicate with them to cooperate rather than compete,” he said.

As Chinese programs in Lehi and the rest of Utah continue to grow, the spirit of cooperation they learn in class will stick with them well after their formal schooling finishes.

For Utah Public Radio in Lehi, I’m Stephen Tanner.”