Documentary records how Americans learn Chinese

Xu Wei
A 95-minute documentary "Chinese Puzzle," which focuses its lens on 40 or so Americans learning Chinese, will air on Dragon TV on Sunday, Chinese Lantern Festival.
Xu Wei
Documentary records how Americans learn Chinese

Tatum Howell (second left) is one of the top 50 International Chinese Bridge Competition finalists. The 9-year-old girl, whose Chinese name is Hao Tiantian, can speak fluent Chinese.

It is estimated that about 200 million people overseas have learned Chinese as the language's global influence continues to spread.

A 95-minute documentary "Chinese Puzzle," which focuses its lens on 40 or so Americans learning Chinese or spreading Chinese language education programs will air on Dragon TV on Sunday. The Chinese Lantern Festival also falls on that day this year.

By the end of last year, 81 countries had incorporated Chinese language teaching into their national education systems.

It took the crew of Shanghai Media Group's SMG News over half a year to travel more than 100,000 kilometers across over 20 cities in the United States to talk with local people and get first-hand material on camera.

They have recorded the flourish and spread of Chinese language and culture in the US since the establishment of diplomatic ties between the two countries in 1979. The documentary also provides insights into how Americans learn Chinese and build emotional connections with Chinese culture and arts.

According to the US-China Strong Foundation, more than 200,000 schools and kindergartens in the US have set up Chinese language courses in their curriculum. Around 400,000 Americans are learning Chinese now. In fact, Ohio State University has fostered 25 PhD graduates and 100 postgraduates to boost Chinese language education.

Among the interviewees are students who amazed audiences at the International Chinese Bridge Competition with their high level of Chinese, deaf-mute children who are rebuilding their confidence through learning Chinese sign language, as well as a college teacher, an academy executive director and a former Utah senator who are all dedicated to the spread of immersion programs for more Americans to learn Chinese.

Additionally, the crew also interviewed an American entrepreneur who is devoted to bilateral cultural exchanges, and a singer who uses various social platforms to try to eliminate some people's prejudices and false stereotypes about China.

Documentary records how Americans learn Chinese

Susan Burg (center), was the executive director of the Yinghua Academy, the first public charter Chinese immersion school in the United States.

Documentary records how Americans learn Chinese

Former Utah Senator Howard Stephenson pushed the legislation for the Utah Dual Language Immersion Program.

Producers noted that while sharing their own stories related to China, most of the interviewees expressed their sincere wishes for stable and healthy Sino-US relations. They also hoped to visit China and talk with local people to know the real China in the future.

Tao Qiushi, deputy director of SMG News, said that it took them around two years to prepare for the shooting of the documentary. In the future, they also plan to introduce the documentary to a wider global audience on streaming platforms and channels.

"China's growing comprehensive national strength and influence have also fueled foreigners' enthusiasm for learning Chinese," said Tao.

Documentary records how Americans learn Chinese

Kendall Kracke, whose Chinese name is Li Xiaoyu, is a graduate student from Portland State University. She was the champion at the 20th Chinese Bridge Chinese Proficiency Competition for Foreign College Students.

According to the documentary's chief director Wang Taofeng, the shooting process brought him many surprises and new perspectives on American society.

"I was amazed at so many people's endeavors to spread Chinese language in American schools," Wang noted. "A lot of schools in the US have initiated Chinese language immersion programs. I was also proud to see our interviewees speaking fluent Chinese in front of the camera."

In his opinion, what motivates so many Americans to learn Chinese is the charm of Chinese culture. When the crew was shooting at the home of the 9-year-old Tatum Howell, a finalist of the International Chinese Bridge Competition, it was her father's birthday. The little girl, whose Chinese name is Hao Tiantian, specially prepared a bowl of noodles for him, which is a Chinese tradition to celebrate birthday.

"Despite some cultural differences, communication and cultural exchanges among ordinary people are still thriving in the two countries," he added. "Through heartwarming individual stories, the documentary will help to enhance mutual understanding and friendship."

Documentary records how Americans learn Chinese

Eddie Conger, superintendent of International Leadership of Texas, is engaged in the spread of dual language immersion education.

Documentary records how Americans learn Chinese

Poster for the documentary

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