Teacher Makes Mandarin Chinese Fun in O'Hara

By Duncan, Brian | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, January 15, 2009 | Go to article overview

Teacher Makes Mandarin Chinese Fun in O'Hara


Duncan, Brian, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


No textbooks, a few rhymes and a lot of fun. That's how Yian Ming Rui teaches Mandarin to students as young as 5.

"People think it's the hardest language in the world," said Rui of Point Breeze. "It's easy if you teach it right."

That's what Rui tries to do through a variety of customized lessons, many that involve rhymes or songs for her students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

"We sing songs like 'Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes' -- a song that most American kids would know," Rui said.

When learning a familiar song, students are able to absorb several words at once. A student in a one-to-one tutoring session using traditional teaching methods might be able to learn those words in six months. But Rui can teach 50 words or so after only a few classes.

"I don't want them to learn one word, I want them to learn three or five at a time," she said.

Rui is returning to the Fox Chapel Area School District, offering two eight-week sessions of Mandarin at O'Hara Elementary, beginning Jan. 22. This is the second semester for Rui's classes and so far, she believes they have been successful.

"She's really good at seeing what the children learn from," said Nancy Downes, whose son Joseph, 9, is a beneficiary of Rui's unique teaching style.

"He can recite the Three Little Pigs in Mandarin," Downes said.

Rui is a mother of two who juggles home-schooling her children, a job at U.S. Airways, Chinese language classes and writing a book on the same subject. She came to the United States from China in 1989 and has a degree in Asian literature and linguistics. …

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