Chinese language student at Glen Ridge HS wins leadership award

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GLEN RIDGE, NJ — Glen Ridge High School, which already boasts a talented group of Chinese-speaking students under the direction of Shihong Zhang, has another student adding to the accolades. Mia Bressler, a junior, has been named a youth leader by the N.J. Chinese Teachers Association. Twenty students from across the state were recognized at a Dec. 10 ceremony in Green Brook. The NJCTA is a nonprofit organization that promotes the study, teaching and research of Chinese language and culture at all grade levels. 

“Academically, she’s good,” Zhang said of Mia on Friday, Dec. 16. “She participated in the Chinese National Speaking Conference last year and this year in the National Chinese Expo of Student Works.”

Shihong said Mia submitted to the expo her knittings of a panda and of a tiger. 

“Most important for her is that she’s been a loyal member of the Chinese Club since the seventh grade and became an officer in the ninth grade,” Zhang said. “She’s now the vice president of the Glen Ridge High School Chinese Club and its honor society. In eighth grade, she earned national youth honors in Chinese.” 

According to Zhang, Mia helped to arrange the upcoming Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations at the school and the annual Chinese cultural demonstrations at Ridgewood Avenue School. These acquaint the borough’s sixth-graders with Chinese culture. Zhang said part of that culture is learning the significance of tea in Chinese society. 

“We have green, red and black teas,” she said. “We try different teas and appreciate the tea culture. Tea is important. There are tea houses on every corner of Chinese streets. It’s good for American students to know the teas and the culture behind them.” 

She said green tea is normally drunk in the spring. In the winter, black tea is preferred because it helps with digestion after big, holiday meals.

“It washes all fat away,” Zhang said. “During Lunar New Year celebrations, people drink black tea. Pu-erh is a famous black tea from the Yunnan Province, which is in the very south of China”

Zhang is from Beijing. She said for an American student to become proficient in the Chinese language, it is important to appreciate the diversity of Chinese culture and to understand the significance of respect for another culture. 

“We need to keep an open mind,” she said.

Mia told The Glen Ridge Paper that Chinese language comes relatively easy to her and she provided a quick lesson for the uninitiated.

“In English, you make words from letters,” she said. “But in Chinese, there is no alphabet. Every single word is a different character and each character is a different drawing.”

Mia said Chinese words are called picto-phonetics. One part of the character or picture provides the meaning of the word. Another part provides the pronunciation. She gave as an example the word “mother.” She provided an illustration of the character.

“Usually when you start to learn Chinese, you learn what is called a radical,” she said. “A radical is a character when combined with another character changes the meaning of that character.”

Mia said the character for “mother” has two components.

“The sound character, without the radical, is ‘ma,’” she said. “But without the radical, that character will mean ‘horse.’ With the radical, it still sounds like ‘ma,’ but means ‘mother’ and not ‘horse.’ 

Mia said “horse” changes to “mother” because the radical means “female.”

“The radical gives you a hint of what the word is,” she said.

Mia has been taking Chinese since seventh grade. For her leadership award, she wrote an essay on why she is taking Chinese. She is taking it, she said, mainly because her older sister, Jamie, took it and said it was a fun class.

Photos Courtesy of Mia Bressler