Chinese teacher shares time with local high schoolers

Willmar's Chinese students have impressed Sabrina Lu, a visiting teacher from China. "They try to use their Chinese a lot; I like that," Lu said Tuesday afternoon at Willmar Senior High. "They are very lively."...

Willmar's Chinese students have impressed Sabrina Lu, a visiting teacher from China. "They try to use their Chinese a lot; I like that," Lu said Tuesday afternoon at Willmar Senior High. "They are very lively."

Lu's real name is Lu Suo Lu, but in this country she uses an English name, Sabrina, which was given to her by her English teacher in China. She teaches English to Chinese eighth-graders in the coastal city of Hangzhou and speaks excellent English with a light British accent.

On Tuesday in teacher Todd Lynum's Chinese 2 class, Lu went through a series of slides that described her schedule in China.

It was a lesson in culture and language, as Lu put sentences on the screen to describe her day, using vocabulary at the students' level.

She explained that most people take the bus to work, as she does, and that many people don't have time to make a hot breakfast before leaving home.


"We like hot things for breakfast," she said, and cold milk over cereal isn't appealing. Food stands are set up at large bus stops, where commuters can purchase a breakfast that is like two pancakes with meat and vegetables in between.

Commuters may also purchase hot soy milk, she said. "In China, we don't like to drink cold things."

The students read the Chinese words on the screen and translated as they followed the description of her day, from taking the bus to work to coming home on the bus and making arrangements to have dinner with her boyfriend.

In another exercise, the two teachers went over a series of comparative statements with the class. It was in preparation for a speaking exercise the class will have on Thursday.

Lu helped them with sentence structure and pronunciation. When a girl asked if a certain word was needed in a sentence, Lu said it would usually be included. But, she added, "You can say that; people will understand you."

Outside the classroom, Lu said she had been a bit surprised to find a full-time Chinese program in a town the size of Willmar. "Here, students are doing very well," she said.

Lu is part of a teacher exchange program. Two teachers from her school have been in Minnesota since February. One is a full-time Chinese teacher in Minnetonka, and Lu has been traveling the state as a teacher of Chinese culture.

She spent some time in New London-Spicer earlier and came to Willmar for a day. Lynum made arrangements to have her come back to Willmar. "He thinks it will be very helpful to the students to have a native speaker here," she said. Lu will be here until the end of the school year. She has also spent time in Braham, Mankato and Pine River.


Lu, 26, has studied English since she was 12, but she has spoken it only since she was 21. When she was younger, students learned to read and write English but did not learn to speak it, she said. That has changed. "In my school, we do a lot of practice on the spoken word."

The teachers at her school are proud of the English instruction they offer, she said.

The school where she teaches is technically a public school, but parents pay to send their students there, she said. "Everywhere in China, you have to pay to go to school."

Schools operate very differently. In this country, teachers have their own classrooms, and students come to them, she said. She was impressed with the Chinese items Lynum had on display in his classroom, something she couldn't do in China.

In China, students decorate their classrooms, and they stay there during the day as teachers come to them. Students also clean their classrooms every day.

Lu said she has seen differences in the students in the two countries.

"Here, I think they are more confident," she said. "They are more relaxed in the classroom."

In talking to students, she has noticed another difference -- Chinese students are more likely to list academics as their top priority; the students she's met here tend to list friends as a priority.


Fewer Chinese students are able to go on to more education after high school, and college entrance is very competitive. That may contribute to her impression that students in China are more motivated, she said.

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