Chinese diplomat impressed with Mandarin skills of District 220 students

  • Hong Lei, a Chicago-based consul general for the Chinese government, addresses a U.S. history class taught in Mandarin at Station Middle School in Barrington on Wednesday. Listening to Hong were students Brooke Brown, 12, of South Barrington, Ava Breillatt, 12, of Hoffman Estates and Brittney Monreal, 12, of North Barrington.

      Hong Lei, a Chicago-based consul general for the Chinese government, addresses a U.S. history class taught in Mandarin at Station Middle School in Barrington on Wednesday. Listening to Hong were students Brooke Brown, 12, of South Barrington, Ava Breillatt, 12, of Hoffman Estates and Brittney Monreal, 12, of North Barrington. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Hong Lei, a Chicago-based consul general for the Chinese government, compliments a class's command of Mandarin at Station Middle School in Barrington. He visited the school Wednesday.

      Hong Lei, a Chicago-based consul general for the Chinese government, compliments a class's command of Mandarin at Station Middle School in Barrington. He visited the school Wednesday. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Hong Lei, a Chicago-based consul general for the Chinese government, addresses Olivia Paik, 12, and Julie Chen, 12, both of South Barrington, and the rest of the U.S. history class taught in Mandarin at Station Middle School in Barrington on Wednesday.

      Hong Lei, a Chicago-based consul general for the Chinese government, addresses Olivia Paik, 12, and Julie Chen, 12, both of South Barrington, and the rest of the U.S. history class taught in Mandarin at Station Middle School in Barrington on Wednesday. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 11/1/2017 4:19 PM

A Chinese government diplomat came away impressed with young American students commanding his native language during a tour of Barrington Area Unit District 220 schools.

Consul General Hong Lei spent his Wednesday at Station Middle School in Barrington, North Barrington Elementary School and District 220's early learning center in Barrington. He received an up-close look at the district's 7-year-old Chinese language immersion program -- one of the few in the Chicago area.

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Among the students he visited at Station were seventh-graders in a U.S. history class taught in Mandarin. The former spokesman and deputy director general for China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs complimented their language skills after watching a skit on the American Revolution performed in Mandarin.

"I think this is really a very good demonstration of the achievements you have made toward learning Chinese," the Chicago-based Hong told the students. "It is very important nowadays for our young people to know each other, because we are two great nations. And for this relationship, (knowing Chinese) could play a very important role for the international community for the next 100 years or beyond."

District 220's director of language programs, Becky Wiegel, said the Station seventh-graders were the first group in the Chinese immersion program. She said there are roughly 320 students in the Chinese program from kindergarten through seventh grade.

Students receive instruction in Mandarin for half their days, beyond daily Chinese language-arts classes. Wiegel said the children are doing more than learning a new language.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"When you're biliterate, bicultural, bilingual, you do have an advantage in life just generally speaking," Wiegel said, "because you will have more opportunities, whether it be the business world or whatever it may be that they choose to go into in their lives."

Station Middle School seventh-grader Ava Breillatt, 12, of Hoffman Estates, said it was "really cool" to meet the Chinese government representative at her school Wednesday. She said she began in the Chinese program in first grade and has enjoyed being with the same classmates over the years.

"It's just a really great environment for learning," said Ava, whose sister is in the Chinese immersion program at Countryside Elementary School in Barrington.

Hong said he wants the relationship with District 220 to continue. He said Chinese officials are willing to do whatever they can to help the students learn the language better or assist in their travels to the country.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

District 220 Superintendent Brian Harris told the children that knowing the Chinese language will benefit them when they are older.

"Not only are you bilingual with Mandarin and English and maybe even other languages, I'm not sure, but it's such a gift," Harris said. "Not only with the Barrington community and where you live, but as you get older, you're going to have opportunities to work beyond our country. It's such a unique opportunity you're going to have."

In 2012, the District 220 school board approved retaining the Chinese language immersion program after it lost its federal grant. The approval came after some residents blamed the Chinese program for cuts in general curriculum teachers.

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