One on One

At the Ewing Marion Kauffman School, fifth graders get to learn more than just math, literature, and science. They get to learn Chinese.

Every Wednesday, UMKC Communications Studies and Political Science student Kirsten Peterson teaches Kauffman School students in Mandarin for an hour and a half. Peterson said, “The kids love it because it is so different. People often think of Chinese as ‘ching, chang, chong’, but it is much more elegant.”

Part of this elegancy is in the written characters, or Hanzi. Peterson said, “They enjoy that the most because they feel like they’re drawing pictures, but I usually just write it out phonetically.” Peterson also focuses on culture to expose the children to how different countries and people can be.

The lessons that Peterson teaches are completely pro-bono; she doesn’t get paid or receive any college credit for her time. However, it helps her in her study of Mandarin. Peterson said, “It would be really cool to be an international journalist or international, political correspondent in China.”

Peterson’s grammar lessons focus mainly on intonation. She said, “Chinese is harder than romantic languages because it relies on tone, so māmā and mà má are spelled phonetically the same, but the tone changes the meaning.”

And what exactly is the difference between the two? Peterson said, “The first means ‘mother’, the other means ‘scold the horse’.”

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