Learn Chinese, Learn Weiqi

Xinming Simon Guo

GoMath Academy

goandmath@gmail.com

You are not looking at a photo of a Weiqi/Go game tournament. This is the STARTALK Chinese Language Academy at Depaul University. The STARTALK program is funded by a presidential initiative to support summer programs in critical needs languages. This year, fifty high school students from Chicago area attended this program and filled their summer vacation with this intensive college-level Chinese language experience. Sure, they were immersed in activities typical of a language program: listening, speaking, reading and writing in Chinese. What the students did not know what they were in for prior to this program is the use of Weiqi--a traditional game originated from China more than four thousand years ago--to help them understand Chinese culture and way of thinking.

What’s the relationship between Chinese Language learning and Weiqi? Research from Wellcome Trust showed that Mandarin Chinese speakers use both sides of their brains to understand language, whereas English speakers mainly use the left hemisphere. Meanwhile in another research study, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI)  was used to compare the brain activities of people playing chess as opposed to Weiqi. The result indicated that the right hemisphere of the Weiqi players worked more actively than that of the chess players during the game. By being exposed to Weiqi, Chinese language learners are more likely to tap both sides of the brain and learn Chinese more quickly.


The close connection between Weiqi and Chinese language learning can also be implied by  the 5C standards for Foreign Langauge Learning in the 21st Century set forth by American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL): ---Communication, Culture, Connections, Comparisons, Communities.  Here are some highlights of combining Weiqi into our Chinese language classroom.

Communication
Language and communication are at the heart of the human experience. Usually we learn to exchange information in oral and written forms, but Weiqi is the dialogue between two players in nonverbal form. Do you know that Weiqi has the nick name of “Hand Talk”?  In the entire process of a Weiqi game, conversation is conducted through each step you play, or each stone you place on the board.

Cultures

This fantastic Weiqi is a game that combines science, art, competition as well as ancient Chinese philosophy and culture. We can find Weiqi from literature to popular art in China, and increasingly in western countries. Embedded in the board game Weiqi is the essence of oriental philosophy and culture. Knowing Weiqi enables Chinese language learners to understand the world from China’s points of view.

Connections

An examination of foreign language learning standards reveals that Weiqi lends itself to natural integration of various subject areas, such as math, arts, and language.  Teachers usually introduce Weiqi as part of their “My hobbies” theme in the language curriculum. Students learn to

know basic colors and shapes in Weiqi. They describe directions(such as up, down, left and right)and count numbers many times in each Weiqi game. When a game ends, students need to use Chinese language to solve simple math problems (to decide who is the winner). For example, teacher Guo used game result to help students learn how to compare in Chinese. If black wins the game, the students will understand that “黑比白多“(Black’s territory is more than White’s).

(Photo: Chicago Public School teacher Ms Cheng is teaching Chinese Weiqi keywords)

Comparisons

When I told my students that I will teach them Weiqi, one student said “Mr Guo, I know Weiqi(围棋) is not the WeiQi (尾气) in our Go Green environment project.” “Yes, both ‘Weiqi game’ and ‘exhaust gas’ in Chinese are pronounced as Weiqi without tone mark.” --Look, My students naturally learned how to compare even before my class began.

Students start a new round of comparisons from the first minute in class-- the similarities and differences between chess and Weiqi, such as who plays the fist step, the basic rules, simple tactics and complex Business/Strategic Planning Analogy. Eventually, students will find out that the thinking in the game of Weiqi is the philosophy of harmony, which has influenced Chinese for more than 2000 years.

Communities

Did I mention that Kaylin sit down with her younger sister (who has already learned Weiqi) and start to play with each other in the home? Did I mention that Angelo (from Chinese II class) taught his uncle (a musician)  how to speak simple Chinese sentences, and how to play Weiqi game? Did I mention there was a field trip to Chinese-American Museum of Chicago and Weiqi was sitting in the museum waiting to be discovered? Did I mention that there was Weiqi in the Chinese language classroom when President of China visited Chicago Walter Payton High school? Did I mention that President Obama visited China with a special gift ? (Take a guess what it is.)  From the home community under one roof to the multilingual and multicultural community of the whole world, we can find the trace of this marvelous Weiqi game.


"The United States must educate students who are equipped linguistically and culturally to communicate successfully in a pluralistic American society and abroad." This is the Statement of Philosophy from ACTFL Standards for Foreign Language Learning in the 21st Century (1999), and it is also the golden rule of success at the StarTalk program at Depaul University. This is the second year that Depaul Startalk program integrates Weiqi into Chinese language classroom.

All these high school students are benefiting from more than 100 hours of immersion in authentic Chinese language and cultural experiences such as Weiqi, calligraphy, field trip, etc. As they expand their horizons in Chinese language and culture, they will also deepen their understanding of their own culture and language, and gain new perspectives for their own future.

(Photo: Mr Guo is teaching Weiqi and Chinese to students)