Learning English was a pleasurable task for Ma Xinxin. However, the opportunity to teach Chinese to others, she says, is just “cool.”
Xinxin came to UAB in August from Beijing as a Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant (FLTA). The UAB Department of Foreign Languages & Literatures competed nationally for the opportunity to host a Fulbright FLTA – and getting a Fulbright teaching assistant from China is rare for an institution.
The FLTA program aims to strengthen foreign-language instruction at American universities by bringing teachers like Xinxin to teach students their native language. China’s emergence in the global market is a primary reason for American students to master the language, a skill considered necessary by the U.S. government to advance national security and global competitiveness.
The FLTA program also is designed to benefit the teaching assistants, enabling them to refine their teaching skills, increase their English-language proficiency and extend their knowledge of the cultures and customs of the United States.
Xinxin says an added benefit is she gets to have a little fun – especially when it comes to expanding her knowledge of English.
“Hey y’all – that’s one of the first things the students here taught me,” Xinxin says. “They also taught me ‘Peace out.’ I don’t use it, but it’s fun and interesting to know.”
Xinxin, 25, received her bachelor of arts in business English and her master’s in foreign linguistics and applied linguistics at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing. She was an instructor of English at the Beijing university for the past year.
Her role here includes helping foreign-language instructor Lily Yang teach academic Chinese classes, leading Chinese conversation tables and founding UAB’s first Chinese Language Club for students. She is the faculty advisor to the group.
“She’s a valuable resource for all of us,” says Sheri Spaine Long, Ph.D., chair of Arts & Humanities. “I think it’s really fun for the undergraduate student to experience someone like Xinxin because the students that work with her get exposed to current youth culture in her country.”
Chinese is considered a Level IV language – one of the more difficult languages to learn. Xinxin knows it’s not an easy language to grasp.
“Many students have problems with tones especially,” she says. “Chinese has many tones and, of course, the writing of the characters is so different.
Pronouncing tones and writing characters probably are the most difficult things about Chinese to learn.”
However, for Xinxin, learning English was easy.
English is the second language offered in almost all Chinese schools, from elementary to college. Xinxin also is an avid reader and honed her English skills reading novels.
“I like foreign novels better than Chinese novels,” she explains. “I like Oscar Wilde. I like his dramas and his plays. I read American writers, too. And I really like Death of a Salesman.”
Xinxin is one of only 40 Fulbright scholars from China this year, and this is her first trip outside of the country. Coming from a place like China to Alabama for your first taste of America might be a culture shock for many, but that hasn’t been the case for Xinxin. She says everyone at UAB has made her transition extremely smooth.
“People here are quite nice to me,” she says. “I think that’s why I don’t feel lonely and miss home that much. Also, my work here keeps me busy. I see many people and do a good bit of work.”