For many students, picking up a second language has become a crucial part of their learning experience. However, the kids at Heritage Christian Academy aren’t just your average polyglots. With close to 400 students, the hallways ring with the sounds of a language not commonly spoken in schools in this neck of the woods—Mandarin.
The Maple Grove school boasts an impressive foreign language program where students, sometimes as young as 3 years old, are taught Mandarin as a part of their class schedule.
Students learn Mandarin each year of preschool and elementary at the private school however, Spanish instruction is an available option when students reach middle school. Staff’s rationale is to give students a leg up on today’s ever-shifting multicultural society.
“China’s a very important country in the world as far as business,” says Dana Weld, Heritage’s Mandarin instructor for pre-kindergarten-12. Weld, who has been teaching at Heritage since 2015, is the sole teacher in the school’s program, which will be celebrating its eighth year in 2019. The classes aren’t just for aspiring moguls, however. Chinese culture is an important subject covered in class and is just as important as any vocabulary or grammar lesson. “We certainly have students who are into everything Asian, everything Chinese,” Weld says.
Weld fell in love with China’s culture when she called the country her home for many years after college. Upon moving overseas to teach English, she picked up the Mandarin language with the help of tutors, studying full-time at a language school for three and a half years and interacting with locals. “I’ve always loved China,” Weld says. “Being at Heritage helps keep that [love] alive in me.”
Teaching children as young as pre-kindergarten may seem like a difficult task, but it’s an endeavor that Weld is eager to embark upon. “I was excited to hear that [Heritage] had 3-year-olds learning Chinese,” Weld says. “They’re able to imitate the accent and tone of the language accurately. They’re not over analyzing. They’re just learning it naturally.” Weld compares the way her youngest students pick up on Mandarin to how any child gradually learns English (or his/her first language) at home, despite the school not offering an immersion-based curriculum. “It’s fun to teach that age. You can use cartoons and games and props to teach them. They really enjoy it.” Because Weld serves as the Mandarin instructor for Heritage students' entire academic experience, she’s aware of the presence she’s able to maintain in the lives of her pupils. “[Students] grow up not thinking about learning a foreign language as an obligatory or a boring thing. They think it’s really cool,” she says.
Heritage hopes to plan trips to China for its Mandarin students and other students, who want a cultural experience. In the meantime, Weld shares stories about some of her students, who have ventured East or continued their Mandarin studies in college. She hopes that the Chinese culture she fell in love with captures the hearts and minds of her previous students in the same way it did (and still does) her. “[Chinese] go beyond in their loyalty and helping one another,” Weld says. “The deep friendships really impress me.”
Until Heritage students can travel to China, Weld brings them a slice of authenticity—and her own kind of hospitality. Armed with their Mandarin speaking skills, she teaches her students how to order Chinese cuisine in Mandarin. “Seeing their sense of accomplishment is the most rewarding thing.”
Heritage Christian Academy
15655 Bass Lake Road, Maple Grove