Wayne State University

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Confucius Institute seeks Quiz Bowl champs

March 20, 2014

On March 22, hundreds of middle and high school
students will converge on Warren’s Chatterton Middle School to see which of them have the strongest grasp of Chinese language, culture and geography. Do they have what it takes to be 2014 Michigan China Quiz Bowl champions?

Launched in 2009 by Wayne State University’s Confucius Institute (WSU-CI), the Quiz Bowl is an annual, daylong competition in which non-native and non-heritage students of Chinese test their retention. Competing in teams of up to four, contestants are entered into separate divisions based on their number of years of Chinese study, facing more advanced questions from a broader range of topics with every additional year.

One of Southeast Michigan’s most important sources and supporters of Chinese language instruction and cultural programming, the WSU-CI modeled the Michigan China Quiz Bowl after the Michigan Japanese Quiz Bowl, founded by the Japan Teachers Association of Michigan in 1993. During the morning’s preliminary rounds, teams play three to four matches, each consisting of 25 questions, to compete for highest average number of points. Armed with electronic buzzers that determine who answers first, students need quick fingers as well as quick wits. Final competitions follow in the afternoon, when the two teams with the highest average score from each division square off for first- and second-place honors. Third- and fourth-place teams receive trophies based on scores from morning competitions.

With just 78 students from nine different schools competing in its first year, the Quiz Bowl has grown enormously popular with area students, said WSU-CI Director John Brender. At the 2013 competition at Macomb’s L’Anse Cruise High School North, he said, 287 students from 17 schools turned out to compete on a record-breaking 78 teams.

“To our knowledge, Michigan is the only state to offer these types of language-based quiz bowls, but our hope is to see similar forums emerge in other states as well,” Brender said. “With this in mind, we have invited some of our friends from three Confucius Institutes in the state of Ohio, who will serve as judges and observe everything from judges’ training to final competitions. Those who, like me, grew up watching the intense rivalries between Michigan and Ohio sports teams may one day be able to enjoy yet another interstate competition!”  

Contestants need to be well-prepared for a range of geography questions covering Chinese provinces, autonomous regions, and their capitals, the country’s rivers and mountain ranges, and the countries that border the vast nation. With respect to language, topics range from colors, numbers, greetings and other fundamentals covered in Level One to Level Four’s trickier areas such as advanced counting words, passive voice and conjunctions. In a new twist, this year’s competition questions will draw heavily from the idiomatic expressions in the WSU-CI’s “Learn A Chinese Phrase” video series (http://today.wayne.edu/featured-stories/12357).

Michelle Tang, a Chinese language instructor at Bloomfield Hills’ Cranbrook whose students have won first place titles in High School Division I and Division II competitions, said Quiz Bowl champions are those who have a passion for the subject. While Tang holds mock competitions, reviews vocabulary and intensifies geography lessons in the weeks leading up to the Quiz Bowl, she said daily practice is the only real preparation.

“As a teacher, inspiring your students to love and learn Chinese language and culture is most important, because you cannot help them in the Quiz Bowl any other way,” Tang said. “This is not something you can cram for.”

Sue Linn, a Chinese language teacher at Troy High School who has had first- or second-place teams in all four high school divisions, said her students get together at school or at one another’s homes for extra practice as the Quiz Bowl approaches, but she agrees with Tang that “preparation for the competition is mostly daily effort.”

“The Quiz Bowl is great motivation for them,” Linn said. “They have a really fun day where they test what they know while learning more information. They tell me it gets more interesting every year.”

What does it take to be a Quiz Bowl champion?

“I asked my students that,” Linn said. “They said ‘passion,’ ‘effort,’ ‘determination,’ ‘dedication,’ and a ‘fast buzzer hand.’”