Mastering Chinese

Growing program uses a variety of techniques to help students learn

Kun An has high expectations for students enrolled in Randolph’s Chinese program. “It’s my goal that, at the end of the first year, I could drop you in China, and I wouldn’t have to worry about you,” she tells her students.

That is a tall order. The Chinese language is often cited as one of the hardest languages to learn. But An combines a rigorous curriculum, focused tutoring, and technology to help students grasp the language quickly.

And it works. Just ask Brittany Eubanks ’09. When Eubanks graduated from Randolph, she decided to move to China to live and work.

“It is a hard language, but if you really want to learn it, Professor An is the person who can teach you,” Eubanks said.

Eubanks arrived in China without solid plans. During the first year, she had several internships, taught enrichment classes on weekends, and volunteered. Last year, she began working in the branding and communications department for Lenovo, a computer company based in Beijing.

Although she was across the world, Eubanks continued to seek advice and guidance from An. Last fall, An asked Eubanks to return to Randolph to share her experiences with current students. Eubanks accepted the invitation because she wanted to assist the program that had prepared her for success in China.

Fifteen years ago, An moved from China to the United States as part of a faculty exchange program. She stayed in America to earn her Ph.D.

After teaching Chinese at Princeton University for five years, An turned down job offers from West Point and other schools to teach at Randolph.

“I felt that I could contribute something here by building up the Chinese program,” An said. “I was amazed by the students. I still am.”

She applies Princeton’s Chinese curriculum and teaching pace, and the Randolph students keep up. But An also develops ways to help students learn more quickly. Every student in Chinese language classes receives weekly tutoring sessions with a native Chinese-speaking student. Class members also sit at a designated table during lunch each Friday. This helps students perfect their tone, which is one of the most demanding aspects of learning Chinese, An said.

Memorizing detailed written characters is another difficult part of learning Chinese. An has her students use computer programs to write Chinese so they can spend more time speaking and reading.

An also worked with Randolph President John E. Klein to create an internship program with Energizer Holdings, Inc., which offers students who have taken a Chinese business course the opportunity to spend time during the summer working in sales and marketing in Energizer’s Shanghai offices.

An believes these experiences create an educational program that will prepare students with skills in a high-demand language. “I’m using all my knowledge and my practical expertise to help my students accomplish as much as they can in four years,” An said.