KUSA – It's spoken by nearly a billion people in the world, but for many, it's a real head-scratcher: Mandarin Chinese.
Despite the fact that China is more than 6,000 miles away from Colorado, a growing number of students are studying that country's most common language.
Inside the walls of the Denver Language School, this classroom sounds a lot like the streets of Beijing.
"There are huge, great brain benefits,” said Kathy Benzel, the school’s principal.
From Kindergarten through 8th grade, students at that DPS charter school are fully immersed in either Spanish or Mandarin Chinese. With the exception of English class, it is the same common core curriculum taught in other schools, only taught there in another language.
"So, math and science and social studies, as well as language arts, is taught in that language," Bensel said.
Out of 715 students there, 350 are learning Mandarin Chinese. It’s one of China’s main languages and is spoken by nearly a billion people around the world, including teacher JuanJuan Zhu, who is originally from Shanghai.
"I feel like language learning is not very popular or well-known here, as opposed to China, but this environment, this very school, just totally embraces the idea," Zhu said.
Mandarin Chinese is spoken based on tone and includes a whopping 50,000 characters – though you need to understand only about 8,000 to read a newspaper.
"Mandarin is spoken and written and read by all of our students in 8th grade, at very advanced levels of proficiency," Benzel said.
One of the 8th graders is Sidnee Beaufort.
"Probably the simplest thing I could remember was "Ni Hao," which is hello in Mandarin,” Sidnee said. "Whenever you're learning a new subject, you're learning a new word, each and every day."
Her mother, Jeri Ellison-Beaufort, enrolled her at the school early on and it's paid off.
"I think the thing that I find most incredible is the reading and writing,” she said. “She can read a novel in Mandarin.”
She can also do more linguistically complicated things, like learning about American history – like Alexander Hamilton -- in Mandarin.
"She writes about those individuals in Mandarin. It's hard to impress me – but that's impressive," Jeri said.
In the end, the school hopes by focusing on these second languages, they'll better prepare these students for a more global future.
“Understanding other cultures and being able to collaborate with people who may not see things exactly the way that you do, is a huge benefit for our students," Benzel said.
That might be the biggest point of all: the school is providing these students a chance to learn the language of a country that is rapidly gaining power and influence in the world.
Just how much influence? It’s something we explore on 9NEWS at 10 p.m., when we'll take you inside a place in Denver that few have ever heard of: the Pardee Center for International Futures at the Korbel School of International Studies at DU.
The center that's been around for decades sought after by governments and organizations around the world because what they do: forecast the future. What they have to say about China as a global superpower is Friday, on 9NEWS at 10 pm.
For more information on the Denver Language School, go to www.denverlanguageschool.org/
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