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Saturday Only Schools Teach Immigrant Children Parent's Native Languages - 2004-05-06

For many immigrant children in the United States, Saturday mornings are spent in school learning the native language of their parents. In suburban Los Angeles, where Asian-American children are learning Chinese.

They attend about 20 Saturday-only schools in the Los Angeles suburbs of Monterey Park, San Gabriel and here in San Marino. These neighborhoods are all at least half Asian.

Grow Lee, a native of Taiwan, is principal of the San Marino Chinese School. It is the largest in the area, with 1000 students.

"We have a lot of different types of students," he said. "The majority of them are what we call ABC [American-born Chinese]."

There are also the children of mixed Asian-Caucasian couples.

"We have Korean, Japanese, because we are the biggest school," he added. "We also have kids from mainland China, too."

He added that many parents believe that speaking Chinese will help their children in business when they get older. That is what 14-year-old Christine Feng has heard from her mother.

"My mom told me that it is easier to get a job, if you do know Chinese," she said. "You can go to China and get a really good job there."

That is one of the reasons this mother sends her son to Chinese school.

"I think it is going to be good for his future, because China is going to be a big market," said the mother. "It is developing economically and maybe speaking Chinese would be good for him professionally."

She added that she wants her son to be able to speak with his grandparents in China and they do not speak much English.

"These youngsters are learning Chinese reading, writing and grammar and are also studying Chinese culture," she said. "Christine Feng is reciting a work by Chinese poet Li Bai."

"It is about a guy who's traveling down the mountain to visit some friends," Christine Feng said. "Basically, they get drunk and they are having a good time."

Pei Pei Chain, 13, said that she has a good time with her friends at Chinese school. "Yeah, it is pretty fun, but the test is pretty hard, though," she said.

Learning Chinese written characters is not easy or exciting, said 12-year-old Jocelyn Liang. "It is sort of boring," she added.

Teacher Yulin Hong said she hears that from many students. "Some of them, they do not like to come to the Chinese school," she said.

She added that 90 percent of the students are forced by their parents to study, but she believes that learning Chinese is good for them.

Christine Feng speaks Chinese at home, but wanted to improve her command of the language.

"I am learning it because I was not born here and I would feel kind of stupid, if I did not learn Chinese and I am Taiwanese," she said. "So, yeah, I am learning it."