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Georgia State’s Confucius Institute wants you to learn Mandarin

Photo by Sylvester Silver III | The Signal

Students gather in front of an array of colorful tissue-paper, practicing the traditional Chinese paper cutting art form known as “jianzhi.”

This month, participants are cutting a series of lines and curves, which, once finished, shows a set of connected hearts. This particular design represents happiness and is usually cut and displayed in one’s window following their wedding.

This activity is one of the many cultural events offered through the Confucius Institute, hosted in room 128 in Langdale Hall. The Confucius Institute is celebrating its 10th year at Georgia State. According to its website, out of its 100 U.S. locations, Georgia State’s branch was named “Confucius Institute of the Year” in 2012 and 2018. 

Managing Director Kimberly Henshaw said that the Institute has many goals and initiatives.

“One of the main goals would be to create opportunities for students to be able to study Mandarin, to experience the Chinese culture and to bring a little piece of China to Atlanta, to the U.S. and to [Georgia State],” Henshaw said.

The Institute also offers a weekly Chinese Café on the Downtown and Dunwoody campuses. This cafe is run like an authentic Chinese corner and allows students to practice their conversational Chinese with student interns.

Jie Yang and Xue Han are two of the interns found at the Chinese Café. Yang and Han moved to Atlanta in August, leaving behind friends and family in Beijing. 

Yang and Han enjoy the cultural workshops because they get to meet students with a zest for languages and Chinese culture. They both believe that learning about other cultures is critical for overall connection and unity.

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“If we know about other people’s culture, we will understand them better and we will have better communication,” Yang said. 

Han agrees with Yang, adding that she appreciates the opportunity to speak to others about their own culture.

“We can make a lot of friends, and we can talk about different cultures,” Han said. “You can experience different lives, and the more culture you can experience, people’s lives, their history — it’s wonderful.” 

Georgia State senior Onasis Hernandez is studying applied linguistics. Sitting around the table, he was able to communicate with students and interns in three different languages. He is proficient in speaking English, Spanish, French and Mandarin Chinese. 

His family speaks Spanish at home, which led Hernandez to grow up speaking two languages, setting up his affinity for learning languages. 

Hernandez said he frequently attends these cultural events, and he started learning Mandarin with the cafe student interns four years ago. Following his introduction to the language, he spent a year living in Beijing and dabbled with even more languages. 

Hernandez recommends that students take advantage of this “easy chance to learn the language.”

Henshaw said that the Institute holds bilingual staff meetings and, due to her years abroad, she can follow along with the Chinese dialogue. 

Henshaw adds that a common misconception is that Mandarin is nearly impossible for native English speakers to learn. She believes this dissuades students from learning the language.

Hernandez agrees.

“Grammatically, [Mandarin] is fairly similar to English,” Hernandez said. “If you learn the vocab, you can get by with simple grammar, and it works out pretty well. You can get to the point where people can understand you pretty quickly if you put the work in.”

The employees and participants of the Confucius Institute encourage students to check out a cultural event, noncredit course or study abroad opportunities. These events are open to all students looking to learn more about Chinese language and culture or those looking to step outside of their comfort zone. 

“Most personal growth comes from being comfortable with being uncomfortable,” Henshaw said. “By just being willing to step out of your normal comfort zone and what you would normally do, [trying] something different will continue to expand your worldview.”