Chinese Students Learn Language through Art

Monday 17, 2017

Nineteen students from Aba Teachers University in China are spending about two weeks at NMU for an English Language Institute focused on art. Faculty from NMU’s School of Art & Design are teaching segments in ceramics, human-centered design, graphic design and painting. NMU’s English Language Institute faculty and staff are coordinating the cultural and language segments, which are also being held in the Art & Design Building.

“The summer program is an extension of a re-established relationship between the assistant director of the School of Art & Design at Aba and myself,” said Daric Christian, associate dean of NMU’s School of Art & Design.”Two representatives of Aba visited NMU in March 2016 and gave presentations to students and faculty. Professor Keith Ellis and I traveled to Aba in China’s western Sichuan Province this past May to work with 21 Art & Design students.”

At one of the early workshops in Brian Kakas’ ceramics studio, the Chinese students were exploring the geometry and architecture of traditional vessels including bowls and plates. Kakas said they combined the polarities of rigid traditional structure and freedom of choice, adding individually customized footings and painting the surfaces through the motion of dancing to give each a distinct personality. The vessels will be fired and the students will be able to bring them back to China.

“The art just makes us relax,” said Yan Quiao, a chaperone and adviser at Aba’s Department of Foreign Languages. “It brings freedom to create anything we want. In daily life, we are doing many things routine with rules. This kind of thing doesn’t have as many rules. It’s relaxing. The teachers are patient and tell us how to create.”

Diana Vreeland, director of NMU’s English Language Institute, said, “The students are very motivated and excited. They have studied English and this is an opportunity to use it and reinforce what they’ve learned through art. The teachers are using creativity in their approaches as well. For example, one has shared different American idioms, such as ‘butterflies in my stomach,’ then asks the students to draw something based on their interpretation of that.”

Honors student Cheyenne Kaufman assisted with a campus visit by an international delegation last year as part of the McNair Scholars Program. She said she was so impacted by the experience that she volunteered to help with the Aba Teachers University visitors.

“Last year, I was in a group with four or five international students at a mixer,” said Kaufman, a double major in music and speech, language and hearing sciences. “I picked questions from a cup to ask and discuss with them. I got to know four girls pretty well and fell in love with their energy and enthusiasm for learning language. They were so sweet and became great friends. We still communicate with each other. When I heard about this group coming from China, I wanted to be involved.”

During their visit to Aba Teachers University in May, Christian lectured on Western design methodologies, including color theory and visual design hierarchy. He then led a workshop on digital photographic illustration working with students to apply the lecture concepts. Ellis presented the rules of working with Western typography and led a workshop on the development of a custom typeface, giving the students a specific theme to incorporate. Both were also involved in cultural exchanges with the faculty of the School of Art & Design at Aba Teachers University, sharing teaching and design methodologies. 

Two traditional Chinese painting faculty will travel to the School of Art & Design in October to work with NMU students.

Kristi Evans
News Director

Creating custom footings

Ceramics workshop

Kaufman (standing left)

Presque Isle picnic