WOODS CROSS -- When Li Li, a guest teacher from Yantai, China, came to Utah to teach Chinese at Viewmont, Bountiful, and Woods Cross high schools, she knew the students couldn't fully learn the language without getting a sense of their culture.
To bring the culture to the students, Li put together a Chinese Spring Gala, held last week at Woods Cross High School, full of Chinese songs and dances.
"Culture is very important for this language, so you can never separate language and culture. They are always together," said Li.
Li brought many costumes from China when she came to Utah last year, and put them to use for the nearly 70 students from the three high schools. Learning the songs helped their language skills as well.
"They can remember the language very well from learning the song," said Li.
Parker Murray, a junior at Woods Cross High, said being immersed in the culture was an experience he will never forget.
"Learning about a different language that's not Anglo-Saxon has been really interesting, and helps my Chinese a lot as we've memorized our lines. I have also learned about their culture through these songs, and how much they respect their elders," said Murray, referring to how important it is to address their elders properly in the songs they sang.
Chinese lanterns adorned the theater, and students lined the stage holding Chinese fans as they sang a song welcoming in the Chinese New Year, the most important holiday in China. Other songs spoke of the beauty of China and tunes commonly sung in the country, and dances performed from several of China's ethnic minority groups. Even first grade immersion students from Stewart and Muir elementary schools performed a song in Chinese.
Senior McKay Bryson has studied the language for three years, but said his Chinese improved dramatically working on the program.
"My pronunciation is much better with all the practicing we've done. When you are working on it two to three times a week, eventually you get pretty good," said Bryson, who admitted to being a little jealous of the first-graders that performed. "They sounded almost perfect. It's amazing to see how much easier it is to learn a language at a young age."
Amanda Sorenson, a sophomore at Viewmont High, performed in several of the dances.
"It's been really cool to learn more about their culture because it's new," said Sorenson. "Compared to traditional songs, their music is very graceful and the costumes are fun and different from what we're used to."
As Li teaches her students the language, she is constantly talking about the Chinese culture. When Li teaches the Chinese numbers, she talks about what numbers Chinese people think are lucky and unlucky.
"Chinese people don't like number four on their license plate because it has a similar pronunciation as death, and they don't want to die," said Li.