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Chinese competition expands horizons of culture, language

Mrs. Ying Leach and five BJU students competed at the Palmetto Chinese Star competition on Saturday, Feb. 22. Photo: Submitted

Anyone who is fluent in a second language will tell you that the key to mastering a language is not classroom instruction, a large vocabulary or correct grammar. The most effective way to internalize and perfect a second language is by full immersion — having to depend on that language constantly to engage in daily conversation.

On Saturday, Feb. 22, several students from Mrs. Ying Leach’s Intermediate Chinese class were able to get a small glimpse of that immersion and expand their Chinese language experience beyond classroom instruction. Five university students, Sarah Twigg, Rebekah Spannagel, Lauren Fischer, Marie An and Jun Kong, and two Academy students, Leach’s daughters, Christina and Abigail, competed in the 5th Annual Palmetto Chinese Star Contest at Presbyterian College in Clinton, S.C. This is the fourth year that BJU has participated in the statewide Chinese language and culture contest, alongside other universities such as Furman University, University of South Carolina and College of Charleston. Winners of this statewide competition are selected to participate in the national Chinese language competition in Washington, D.C., with a chance to progress to the Beijing Chinese Bridge Contest in China.

For Leach, the contest is more than just an opportunity for her students to gain a better appreciation of Chinese language and culture. The end goal of the competition is to present an excellent Christian testimony to fellow students and contestants. “We are greatly blessed in so many ways,” Leach said. “[It is] a special way of building friendship with each other, creating opportunities to interact with other college students, [and] being a good testimony for our Lord Christ Jesus.”

Students participate in the contest with either a language or culture presentation. Fischer, Twigg and Spannagel prepared oral presentations, including personal stories and traditional Chinese poems, while Kong and An sang traditional songs from Chinese culture.  Before the event, Leach worked with her husband to prepare the music and presentations selected by each of the students and coached them in their performances. “I prepared by listening and singing along to the song a few times a day for the past few weeks,” said Fischer, a senior English education major. “I’ve also been practicing my speech on anyone who will listen, including my stuffed panda!” Many of the competition pieces are selected from projects completed during the semester or are provided by Leach from Chinese tradition.

All of the BJU contestants placed in this year’s competition. Kong won third place for advanced language proficiency, and two teams placed in the advanced cultural competition, with Twigg and Spannagel winning third place and Fischer and An earning second place. Christina and Abigail Leach also earned third place at the elementary cultural level.

Even though the Palmetto Chinese Star Contest is a relatively small competition, it provides a rare opportunity for students studying Chinese to practice the language outside of the classroom, as well as to better appreciate more of the complexity and beauty of Chinese culture.

“To me, the contest sounded like an exciting opportunity to broaden my Chinese learning experience,” said Spannagel, a sophomore history major. “It has been enjoyable to delve into an additional little bit of Chinese culture and literature.”