Aspen High student working to initiate Chinese-language classes
September 14, 2010
ASPEN – Sometimes, Alex Porter’s dad needs him to translate.
The elder Porter frequently helps Chinese hospitals diagnose and advise patients through an outsourcing enterprise he runs from Aspen, and the patient file names can get confusing – Xiao Li (pronounced Shou Lee), Chau Ling (pronounced Cho Leeng). The list is a long one.
Alex, a 17-year-old senior at Aspen High School, has been taking classes for the Mandarin dialect online through Johns Hopkins University for three years. He’s not fluent yet, but “I’m getting there,” he says.
“It takes years to get fluent in Chinese,” he says of the language, which bears little similarity to the structure of English and is written without a formal alphabet, though it has more than 10,000 characters.
One thing he does seem fluent in, though, is the increasingly global industrialization of China.
He has been to the country twice, once four years ago with his parents and again two years later with his dad on a “father-son-type trip.”
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And what he’s learned from those experiences with the culture and the language that so fascinates him is that, if people are serious about having a successful career in business, they need be serious about learning the language of the burgeoning global force China has become.
During his travels, Porter developed a strong love of the language – he even spent a month in a Middlebury College immersion course, during which he was not allowed to speak anything but Chinese.
While he hopes to possibly run a business from China one day or be possibly involved in Chinese politics – “I might find myself pouring tea for the Chinese ambassador,” he says – that need is easily recognized in his dad’s business.
That’s why he’s trying to bring the language to Aspen students, who currently can learn Spanish and French at the high school. In fact, second-language courses are one of the few areas a recent survey says AHS needs to improve upon.
Porter will showcase his newly created Chinese Club, which just won approval from the vice principal, during Wednesday’s club fair at the school.
The program will become, Porter hopes, a precursor for the language to be taught formally at the school.
As a senior, he would not be there to take those classes. But, he hopes to create that possibility for future AHS students, among whom, he says, rests much interest in, but little opportunity for, the language.
“Not very many people can say they speak Chinese,” Porter says.
The club would peripherally cover Cantonese, but Porter says the focus would stick on Mandarin, as certain parts of China that are strongholds for the dialect, like Beijing and Shanghai, are growing.
Porter has recruited a local banker who is fluent in Mandarin to teach, as well as a teacher from the school to mentor the group on field trips and during the club sessions, which are already set for Tuesdays, he says.
But he needs at least eight students to commit to membership at the club fair before the club becomes a reality.
If he gets them, he says, Aspen will have a leg up on the competition. Few if any other high schools he is aware of in Colorado have a Chinese program.
“There’s not that much of a Chinese influence in Colorado,” Porter says.
He hopes to change that.