Teaching a New Language to Students Inspired Me Every Day: Liang


Teaching a New Language to Students Inspired Me Every Day: Liang

Lifetime Achievement award

sin Hsin Liang has taught Chinese at the Department for East Asian Languages, Literatures and Cultures at the University of Virginia for 22 years and will be stepping down this semester. She spoke to UVA Global about growing up in Taipei, Taiwan, what motivates her, and her plans after retirement.

Tell us about yourself. 
Liang: I grew up in Taiwan and after my undergraduate studies,  I came to the University of Wisconsin-Madison to study Chinese language and literature, where I worked as a Teaching Assistant in Chinese. I then studied at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, focusing on Teaching English as a Second Language and Linguistics, while also teaching Chinese as a Teaching Assistant and later as a Lecturer. I received my Ph.D. in Linguistics.
When I was a sophomore in college in Taiwan, the director of the Mandarin Center needed 10 students to tutor newly arrived Chinese learners. I was assigned to tutor a mathematics professor from the United States. He had zero knowledge of Chinese, and I didn’t know any Pinyin (a Chinese pronunciation system). Due to my inexperience in teaching Chinese, both the professor and I were quite frustrated with our communication. He could only read Chinese text in Pinyin, and I could only correct his pronunciation if I didn’t understand it. “That is what Chinese will say” was the only answer I could give him when he asked about grammar. I realized that having good intentions to teach well is not sufficient. I was determined to learn how to teach Chinese effectively. Perfecting the pedagogical skills of teaching Chinese language and culture became my lifelong interest and mission.

Hsin Hsin in Madison Wisconsin
Hsin Hsin Liang in Madison, Wisconsin

Tell us about teaching at UVA. Are there any memories that stand out from
this time?
Liang: I joined UVA in 2002. Before that, I taught at the University of Michigan for 16 years as a lecturer. One of the most attractive reasons for me to come to UVA was its reputation for excellent undergraduate education and the amiable, supportive relationship between professors and students. I was hired as an assistant professor and the coordinator (director) of the Chinese language program. I dreamed of fulfilling many of my professional aspirations at UVA. I have so many memories from these 22 years. If I had to list just one or two, I would mention former Vice President and Provost Gene Block inviting newly arrived faculty members to a Thursday breakfast with him. He was willing to get to know us personally and shared his plans for the university, which was precious.

I am grateful for the opportunities provided by our university, the International Studies Office, the Department of East Asian Languages, Literatures, and Cultures, and our partner at East China Normal University (ECNU) in Shanghai for the UVA-in-Shanghai Chinese summer program.

Have students stayed in touch with you?
Liang: Yes, in addition to students contacting me for letters of recommendation, I have had former students stop by my office years after graduating from UVA. I also receive Christmas cards from them.

Hsin Hsin graduating from college in Taipei
Hsin Hsin graduating from college in Taipei

What inspires you every day?
Liang: The opportunity to meet my students in the classroom and interact with them always gives me the energy to start the day happily. I am especially happy knowing that I learn something new each day. This inspires me to look forward to the next day with enthusiasm.

What is your message to students who want to learn a new language?
Liang: I believe that learning a language is not only about studying vocabulary and grammar but also about understanding another culture and another group of people. Our viewpoints are widened, and our attitude toward the world becomes much more tolerant and accepting. In this way, we become less biased toward people and the world.

What is next after retirement?
Liang: It is a difficult question, as I have been seriously thinking about it for two years before my retirement, and I still do not have an answer. "To serve people" is what I have enjoyed, so maybe I will find something where I can devote my skills and energy to helping others. We will see what it will be.