Learning a language often means learning a culture as well. Language teacher Yi Ren points out that giving a person from China a clock for a gift can be tricky.
"Don't give a clock. The pronunciation of ‘clock’ is similar to ‘bad luck,’ " said Yi, who is teaching a class in Mandarin Chinese at the Bemis Public Library. "When I teach a class, I focus on the language part and the culture part."
Yi, a Chinese native who came to the U.S. with her husband on Christmas Day 1985, first started teaching Mandarin to children. But as more and more American parents adopted Chinese infants, Yi started teaching more and more parents Mandarin.
"I was teaching both the parents Chinese and English to the children," Yi said.
As part of its public education mission, Bemis Library periodically has foreign language classes for the public, along with hosting the Littleton Immigrant Resource Center.
Until this year, only Spanish was taught. But the library has added another language option.
"It's the most popular (language) that people want to learn," said Meredith Gipson, assistant to the library's director. She said the 20 or so spots in the class filled up immediately, and the waiting list was cut off at 15.
The library has yet to schedule the next class.
Jeanne Chou, a Chinese native who came to the U.S. early in her life, was one of the lucky students to register before the classed filled up. Fluent in Cantonese, she said she was very excited when the library announced the class.
"Oh, they're so many reasons I want to learn," Chou said. As a child, she knew some Mandarin but remembers hardly any now.
"If someone that speaks Cantonese and someone that speaks Mandarin want to talk, they should probably communicate in English," Chou said.
Yi likes to focus on common exchanges in daily conversation, like greetings and basic questions. She also has written a book, "Chinese for Beginners," which she said she uses lessons she learned from teaching classes.
"Teaching adults is different than teaching children," Yi said, noting that most of her students have full-time jobs and can't spend as much time as kids on learning. "We focus on practice and memorizing in class."
After leaving her first class, Chou said she was excited at the prospect of being able to speak Mandarin again.
"I want to learn. I lost it, but I want to regain it," Chou said.
Contact Ramsey Scott at firstname.lastname@example.org or 303-933-233, ext. 22.