conference attendees
Participants at the UTSA Chinese language teachers conference,
including event co-organizer Wayne Wright (back row in white shirt),
event co-organizer Li Jia (black jacket at center) and (right of Jia)
Sonny Lew, who attended San Antonio's first Chinese language school
in the 1930s.

Chinese language conference is part of UTSA outreach

By Tim Brownlee
Assistant Director of Public Affairs

(July 29, 2008)--The UTSA Department of Bicultural-Bilingual Studies and the College of Education and Human Development hosted a Chinese language teachers conference last spring, which was a first in the region. Hosted by Wayne Wright, UTSA assistant professor of bicultural-bilingual studies, and Li Jia, UTSA lecturer of bicultural-bilingual studies and specialist in English as a second language, the conference is part of UTSA efforts to reach out to the area Chinese community and to interact with China.

Expecting approximately 35 participants, event organizers were surprised when 80 people came from across the region to register for the free event. Additionally, stories about the event appeared in World Journal, a widely read international newspaper published in Chinese, and the San Antonio Express-News.

Titled "On the Front of Exploration: San Antonio's First Chinese Language Teachers Conference Exploring Approaches to Chinese Language and Culture Instruction," the daylong event brought together area K-12 teachers from community heritage language schools and public schools, and graduate students and faculty members from colleges and universities including an Austin group.

Researchers and teachers shared information on their programs, experiences and classroom strategies for effective language instruction, literacy practice, language socialization in Chinese language schools, and motivating young learners with songs, poems and games. Honorees included May Lam, founder of the Asian Festival, and Sonny Lew, who attended San Antonio's first Chinese school in the 1930s.

The conference was co-sponsored by the San Antonio Alamo Chinese Language School, First Chinese Baptist Church School and Donald Lien, associate dean of international affairs in the UTSA College of Business and holder of the Richard S. Liu Distinguished Chair in Business. At the conference, Lien spoke on how he started the first Chinese program in the College of Business and other projects to build more connections with the Chinese and Asian studies programs.

Wanxiang Yao, president of the San Antonio Chinese Association (SACA) and chair of the UTSA Department of Health and Kinesiology, was a strong supporter of the conference. He has been involved in a variety of projects to promote cultural exchanges between the United States and China. Zenong Yin, the Loretta J. Lowak Clarke Distinguished Professor in Health and Kinesiology, and Yao are working closely with counterparts in China on research and graduate student exchange programs. In May, the two professors and Richard Diem, dean of the UTSA Honors College, took students on a tour of China. As part of the curriculum, the UTSA students learned about Chinese culture and the dramatic development of the Chinese economy in visits to several major cities.

As a main objective of the cultural exchange, Chinese college students became more familiar with American culture through lectures and seminars by the UTSA professors. With their ongoing efforts to promote collaboration, it is expected that five Ph.D. students from Beijing Sport University soon will come to the UTSA Department of Health and Kinesiology for a one-year study as visiting scholars.

"The successful conference was the result of the collaborative efforts of many," said Jia. "Betty Merchant, dean of the College of Education and Human Development, and Robert Milk, chair of the Department of Bicultural-Bilingual Studies, gave the best support we could have. Dr. Merchant gave an opening speech at the conference and highly praised our efforts."

"Dr. Wright and I saw the conference as an historical event for two important reasons," Jia added. "This is the first time in San Antonio where an academic event focused on Chinese language teaching. Second, the meeting's focus on Chinese as a heritage language in San Antonio supports the historic mission of UTSA's Department of Bicultural-Bilingual Studies to promote home-grown bilingualism through the nurturing and development of language and cultural resources already existing in our local communities."

Joint research by Wright (principal investigator) and Jia led to creating the conference, after they conducted 15 interviews with teachers from San Antonio's Chinese language schools and administrators, parents and students involved with the schools in the 1930s and 1940s. Photos collected during the research will be donated to UTSA's Institute of Texan Cultures archive. Wright has published numerous articles on bilingual education. Jia's dissertation on language socialization of a group of Chinese children at a heritage language school recently was published by Henan University Press in China.

For more information, contact Wayne Wright at (210) 458- 5963 or Li Jia at (210) 458-4426.

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