British Columbia

Kelowna residents say nĭ hăo to Mandarin language program

A new language program launched at the Okanagan Regional Library in Kelowna has become one of the library's busiest, with more than 30 students dropping in each week to learn Mandarin.

'We're very, very happy with the turnout. It's one of our busiest programs,' says organizer

Participant Sam Fisher, pictured with his tutor Sophy Hsu, said his whole family comes to Mandarin classes at the library and they practice speaking it at home. (Christine Coulter/CBC)

A new language class launched at the Okanagan Regional Library in Kelowna has become one of the library's busiest programs, with more than 30 students dropping in each week to learn Mandarin. 

Mandarin Mondays was created in October by organizer Marianna Chen and reference librarian James Stuart.

Chen got the idea to start the free classes through her job with a Kelowna community immigrant services program.

She saw many Canadians marrying new immigrants and families adopting children from China, and thought they may want to learn the language. 

James Stuart, right, said when Marriana Chen, left, approached him about starting the language program, it worked well with the library's goal to provide relevant programming for the community. (Christine Coulter/CBC)

"I found so many of them wanting to learn Mandarin and that was very surprising to me," said Chen.

However, the classes have drawn interest from people from all different areas of the community, including high school students, business people, seniors, and people who are just interested in learning Mandarin. 

Great turnout, says librarian

Classes at the library can get so full, some students sit on couches in the hallway to find space to learn.

"Kelowna is growing very quickly. There's a growing Mandarin-speaking community," Stuart told Daybreak South's Christine Coulter.

"We're very, very happy with the turnout. It's one of our busiest programs."

Stuart thinks the one-one-one and two-on-two tutoring method, where students are paired with volunteers fluent in Mandarin, is working well.

"People are learning and they keep coming back and they're serious about Mandarin," said Stuart.

Family goals

Student Sam Fisher, said he's been coming to lessons for three months with his wife and two daughters, because both daughters were adopted from China.

"We have a strong affiliation with China... and Chinese and Mandarin are such a big part of the world today that I mean, wow, what an opportunity [to learn]," said Fisher.

"If I'm looking at it for my children, to learn how to be in a global community, English, Mandarin those are just two of the biggest things that they should know."

Sam Fisher, left, describes Mandarin tutor Sophy Hsu, right, as "a very patient person." Fisher has gone from not speaking any Mandarin, to learning how to speak the language conversationally thanks to Hsu's help. (Christine Coulter/CBC)

He also finds that it's beneficial for him to learn Mandarin as a businessman. Fisher is already planning another trip to China.

So far, tutor Sophy Hsu has taught him how to count to 99, and now he's learning how to say dates.

"It's awesome. I feel very, very proud," said Fisher.

Hsu plans her lessons based on her student's language skills, starting with how to properly pronounce different sounds and intonations that are used in Mandarin. 

Fisher has especially enjoyed practicing Mandarin at home with his family.

"It makes [it] more fun when you can do it at home with a whole crew."

With files from Christine Coulter and Daybreak South

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