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Mandarin course benefits campus community

Barry McNamara
With instructor Wenhong Teel in the background (in red), Diana Salamanca '18 and her classmates work on an assignment for the College's new Mandarin course.
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MONMOUTH, Ill. – For Monmouth College instructor Wenhong Teel, it makes a lot of sense to learn Mandarin.

“It’s so obvious,” said Teel, who is teaching Mandarin classes this fall. “China is the second largest economy in the world, and there is so much cooperation between the United States and China. If our students learn the language, it’s going to be a big plus for them in terms of employment. This will give them an edge in their future careers.”

Teel, who also teaches a Japanese course, said that edge will be present regardless of the academic disciplines students pursue.

“It’s an excellent language for students, no matter their major,” she said. “Mandarin is such an important language. You just can’t ignore it.”

Teel said she hopes to expand Mandarin at Monmouth beyond the introductory level.

“I want to go on to teaching it at higher levels, and also introduce Chinese literature and culture,” she said. “Right now, it’s just very technical information on the language, so I hope we can expand that.”

A native of China, Teel first visited the United States in 1998. She came to Monmouth from Western Illinois University, where she’s taught classes in Mandarin and Japanese the past 10 years. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English language and literature from Peking University, which is one of the top universities in China, and a master’s degree in East Asian languages and cultures from the University of Illinois.

In addition to students, several faculty and staff are enrolled in this fall’s Mandarin course. One of those faculty members is Assistant Professor of History Michelle Damian, who echoed Teel’s thoughts on the importance of learning Mandarin.

“China is dramatically important,” said Damian, who is fluent in Japanese. “I’m taking the Mandarin course for a few reasons. Since I’ve been a grad student, I’ve needed it for my research, so for my professional growth I wanted to understand Chinese. I also need it to be more well-rounded. You can’t ignore China when studying Asia. You can’t understand one without having an understanding of the other.”

Prospective students in China will also benefit from Mandarin at Monmouth. Also auditing the course is Assistant Director of Admission Jess Strong, who will be in China for nearly a month this fall on a recruiting trip. During her time in Asia, she will also visit with students in Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines.

“A huge foundation of Chinese culture is relationship-building, so even knowing simple phrases shows you care and makes you more relatable,” said Strong, who recalled being fascinated by Chinese culture when she was a grade-school student. “This is an exciting opportunity for me that Monmouth offers, and it’s really lit that fire in me again.”