Yin Ding is helping bridge the cultural divide of East and West as the new Chinese language teacher at Homewood-Flossmoor High School.
District 233 agreed to expand its language offerings beyond the traditional French and Spanish classes after hearing requests from parents and students. Ding is teaching 93 students in four sections, including students from James Hart Junior High in Homewood and Parker Junior High in Flossmoor who were invited to be part of the first class.
“I love everything (at H-F). All my colleagues and the superintendent and the principal, teachers from other departments—they’re so nice.
“And the students have done a great job. Within two months they have been able to ask simple questions according to the standards,” Ding said. “They’ve been super positive at this level, and I love having the eighth graders here first thing in the morning. They make my day!”
Ding, 36, has been in the United States for three years. She married a business professor at Benedictine University whom she met when serving as his interpreter. She was teaching English at the college level in Liaoning province, northeast of Beijing.
Taking the Chinese teaching position at H-F is a switch for her, but she says teaching her native language has given her a chance to examine Chinese.
“It’s fun and right now I appreciate my own language a lot more than before because in China I never, ever think of my language. You just use it, say it, write it and I never took a closer look at it and how wonderful it is with its rich history.
“I’m trying to tell my students that this language is a walking fossil,” she says jokingly, pointing out that some Chinese characters recognized from 2,000 years ago are still used today.
Unlike the English alphabet, the Chinese language is built on characters. Ding said the basic characters are pictographs and the remaining 85 percent are a combination of basic radicals—made up of components that reflect the sound and the meaning.
“That’s why I’m teaching my students the basic characters like the sun, the moon, the mountain, water—all those are pictograph,” she said.
Her classroom is decorated with calligraphy, maps and drawings to help students recognize Chinese culture and geography. She has organized a Chinese language club at H-F. At one meeting, she had students watch a video about Kung fu to see how martial arts is taught by the masters. At a future meeting Ding intends to have the students enjoy Chinese dumplings.
“The only culture shock (for me) is food,” she said. The traditional dim sum—small portions of dumplings, steamed buns and rice noodles—is hard to compare to the American hamburger or even a salad.
“We only have cold salad in summer time. (Here was) the first time I ate celery and carrots raw. In China milk is so very expensive. Most of the common Chinese drink soy milk. I never had cereal for breakfast,” she said.
In sharing her personal insights, Ding is trying to dispel falsehoods by giving students a native Chinese person’s views of the country.
“The media here it’s kind of making me a little disappointed because I can not read anything positive about China,” she said. She is also learning to break down the stereotypes of America that are promoted in China.
“You need to present good and bad and then people will have a true impression of (both) countries,” she added.
Homewood-Flossmoor High School Chinese language teacher Yin Ding introduces herself and says how excited she is to be teaching at H-F. She has been welcomed by her colleagues and the H-F administration and is enjoying teaching students from H-F as well as James Hart Junior High and Parker Junior High. (Video by Marilyn Thomas/HF Chronicle)