A classroom of Mandarin speakers and learners has gotten so full, it has had to take over various rooms at Kelowna’s downtown library.
Marianna Chen created Mandarin Mondays, a free weekly meet up made up of volunteers who teach the language and those eager to learn, after she saw a growing need for her clients at Kelowna Community Resources Immigrant Services to learn English.
Chen said immigrants who married Canadians sometimes have low confidence in learning the language, so she thought by offering these classes, spouses could learn about the Chinese culture.
“For the immigrants, it actually helps them,” she said.
Chen said since 2015, she’s seen an influx of immigrants moving to the Central Okanagan.
“I am getting all these volunteers, they are either from immigrant families, some of them are in high school or they are the wives of Canadians, and (there are Okanagan College students),” she said.
Eight volunteers who are fluent in Mandarin help out roughly 30 people every Monday night. The classes started in January with about 15 people, Chen said.
Luke Mortenson, who is learning the language, said he has an interest in Chinese culture.
“I’ve always been interested in learning another language. It was nice to learn on my own for a little bit,” Mortenson said. “I practice Tai Chi and Kung Fu and it was a great avenue to understand it a little deeper.”
He said the most important thing he’s learned so far is not to be afraid to make “egregious” mistakes.
“It’s really easy, if all you know is one language, to think about that language in the context of your own, so sometimes I’ll say something if my thought pattern is in English, that won’t make sense,” he said.
He’s been able to apply his knowledge in daily life.
“Even just learning this and going down to Vancouver, it opens up a whole new world of understanding,” he said.
“We learn a lot of the cultural aspects too,” he said. On his travels to France, he said he bumped into Chinese tourists he was able to converse with.
Sam Fisher, another eager learner who has been attending classes for the last six weeks, said he decided to learn the language because his two teenaged daughters were born and adopted from China and he conducts business there. His Canadian born son also attends the classes, along with his daughters, and they enjoy it, he said.
Fisher thinks it’s important for his children to learn Mandarin as well since it’s a big part of the world today and he also has business in China.
“The culture from that aspect is also very interesting, and in doing business there they are working very very hard to understand, to speak English, which is the primary business language, but that seems unfair… my goal is 10 from now, I’m fluent in Mandarin, that’s fantastic,” he said.
Learning the language would provide future opportunities for his family, Fisher said.
“I believe Mandarin will part of their future in one way or another.”
Librarian Jamie Stuart said the classes fit well with the library’s strategic plan to host events.
“Our new mandate is to do programming that supports the public and it can come in almost infinite forms, but it’s up to use to find where the need is and then create relative programming,” he said.
He said through KCR, Chen worked with the library on other projects, so it was a natural fit.
Chen holds the classes on her own time, and they are not associated with KCR. Her goal is to see the volunteers take on the classes themselves, so she can take a step back.
To learn more about Mandarin Mondays, visit https://www.facebook.com/mandarinmondayskelowna/?ref=aymt_homepage_panel.