This Blue Valley elementary student is one of the state’s best Chinese speakers

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A Blue Valley third grader has established herself as one of the top Chinese language speakers in Kansas.

Hannah Zhao, a student in the district’s Chinese Immersion program at Valley Park Elementary, placed in this spring’s National Chinese Speech Contest — an annual language contest hosted by the American Academy of International Culture and Education.

Hannah Zhao Chinese contest
Above, Hannah Zhao and her mother Michelle Su posing with the certificate she earned from her victory in the Chinese speaking contest. Photo credit Lucie Krisman.

Zhao is a third grader at Valley Park

  • Zhao began learning Chinese early on from her grandparents and her mother, who would translate books from English to Chinese (and vice versa) for her.
  • She entered Valley Park’s Chinese Immersion program in kindergarten, and she enjoys reading and watching television in Chinese outside of the classroom, too.
  • Outside of language practice, Zhao enjoys activities like cheerleading, taekwondo, piano and musical theater.

More than 1,400 students were nominated

  • Students from across the U.S. in grades 3 through 12, as well as some college students, participated in the annual contest, which took place online via Zoom.
  • Zhao, along with other participants, demonstrated her Chinese speaking ability by giving a speech with the theme “How My World is Changed Because of Chinese.”
  • After delivering her speech, she then had to answer questions from judges in Chinese in order to demonstrate her conversational ability.
  • “At first I thought I didn’t get a really high place,” she said. “I felt really happy and excited, and my teachers were really proud of me.”

Zhao was nominated by her teacher

  • Claire Pan, Zhao’s teacher at Valley Park last year, nominated her for the contest along with nine other students.
  • Pan said she chose which students to nominate based on both their skill and their motivation.
  • Preparing the contest took a lot of practice, which she said her students enjoyed.
  • “They just realized, this difference is not only in the language, but also the cultural (component) and their worldview — how they view the world,” she said. “When we practice, the students just listen to each other and they feel confident because they are able to express themselves and understand the ideas of their peers. It’s a really enjoyable process.”

Zhao was the only Kansas student to make the finals

  • Students in 39 different states across the country made it into the contest’s final round.
  • Su said her daughter has benefitted from the both the lingual and cultural lessons she’s learned at Valley Park.
  • Getting to see her take home a victory like this one made her proud, she said — as does watching her balance all of the skills she has.
  • “She works hard,” she said. “I always tell her, be gracious about the opportunity — not everybody has the same opportunity.”

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About the author

Lucie Krisman
Lucie Krisman

Hi! I’m Lucie Krisman, and I cover local business for the Johnson County Post.

I’m a native of Tulsa, Oklahoma, but have been living in Kansas since I moved here to attend KU, where I earned my degree in journalism. Prior to joining the Post, I did work for The Pitch, the Eudora Times, the North Dakota Newspaper Association and KTUL in Tulsa.