SALEM (WSLS 10) - Salem has a new language for middle school students to take this year. Andrew Lewis Middle School is one of just 20 schools in the nation with a state department grant that will allow the city's middle school to have a Chinese teacher on staff. Salem says it is the first grant ever awarded to a Virginia school.
"It has been fun," said Maddie Fountain, an 8th grader in the class.
"It will definitely put you ahead. the economy is slowly shifting towards the Chinese. they're the biggest country in the world so why not take this class and learn how to communicate with them," said Jadon Fetrow, an 8th grader in the class.
This is the first year for the foreign language taught by Qian Yin.
"I think mandarin is a very, very basic tool for them to start to learn culture and to start to communicate with people," said Yin.
They're learning to speak, write and understand.
You have to memorize it. You have to memorize how the characters, how you pronounce it, how you write it, it's hard," said Fountain.
"Last year we kind of looked at the program and the principals made the decision that Chinese was definitely something needed in the area," said Judith Painter, a World Geography teacher who also has two of her own children in the class.
Students and parents have been asking for this class because many Salem businesses have contact with Chinese businesses.
"It's just kind of a different thing. It's a little culture change. It's cool to see what the Chinese do versus Americans. It's not as basic as taking Spanish or German so that's why I took it," said Fetrow.
The language seems to come easy to the eighth grader but he says a good memory helps.
"Really difficult. There are so many characters to learn and it's beyond compare to Spanish say," said Fetrow.
Yin uses games and group work trying to teach the foreign language while learning a lot herself.
"They can teach me something, I can teach them something. we love sharing," said Yin. "I think language builds up the bridge between cultures and also I want them to learn more about China, to talk to me and to communicate with me and my students back home."
"We are just so glad to have her here. It's just been a wonderful experience. I think it will make a big difference in our community," said Painter.
Longterm they hope to expand classes into high school.