Zheng Jingxuan (Diana Zheng), a native of southeast China's Fujian province, has a reputation in Spain for being dedicated to teaching the Chinese language and culture, and for her success in operating Montessori Baby House, a trilingual (Chinese, Spanish and English) kindergarten in Madrid, capital of Spain. "Teaching Chinese makes me feel the value of life. It is my mission to teach the Chinese language and spread Chinese culture abroad," she says.
Zheng graduated in 2010 with a master's degree in Spanish from Zhejiang Yuexiu University of Foreign Languages in Shaoxing, in east China's Zhejiang province. After that, she pursued postgraduate studies in Chinese-Spanish interpretation at Universidad Complutens, in Madrid, Spain.
She was a Chinese-language tutor in her spare time. As Zheng was about to graduate in 2012, she was offered an opportunity to work as a Chinese-language teacher and director of the Chinese-language department at a language-training school in Madrid. Since then, she has been a Chinese-language teacher in Spain. She used to offer Chinese-language classes via a program on Radio Libertad, a radio station in Spain. Her classes were reported by a leading Spanish newspaper several times.
During the four years she worked at the languagetraining school, Zheng participated in various training courses — including some involving positive discipline and the Montessori approach to education — to improve her teaching skills. She received many certificates, such as the certificate issued by Association Montessori Internationale and the ICTP (Online International Chinese Teacher Training Program) certificate issued by Beijing Language and Culture University.
After Zheng gave birth to her son in 2017, she began visiting kindergartens in Madrid. "I hoped my child would be able to speak three languages (Chinese, Spanish and English). At that time, Spain didn't have full-time Chinese-language schools. Schools only offered extracurricular classes in the Chinese language at least twice a week. Therefore, I decided to start my own business — setting up a trilingual early education school on my own," Zheng recalls.
"The predecessor of Montessori Baby House was an online-education platform, on which I began promoting methods and ideas for educating children to overseas Chinese parents in 2016. I also invited education experts to give online lectures to the parents. Professor Feng Dequan, known as 'the father of early education' in China, had paid attention to the platform. His care and encouragement gave me great courage and confidence to start my own school," Zheng says.
After Montessori Baby House opened in July 2018, many residents in the neighborhood visited the school. A couple, who were linguistics professors and who spoke three languages, told Zheng they were deeply impressed by her educational philosophy, and they would like to help her recruit students. Two months later, the school welcomed its first group of children.
"Montessori Baby House is the first trilingual preschool in Spain that combines the concept of early education with tested methods of learning — the Montessori Method, combined with positive discipline, and the Chinese philosophy of Dujing (reading classic literature) — resulting in surprising learning outcomes," Zheng says.
"Trilingualism is an important base of our education. We teach in an immersive environment, with native teachers of Chinese, English and Spanish, so children learn in a natural way from their first day," she adds.
Zheng has not always had an easy time raising her son and operating her business at the same time. However, she feels fulfilled and that her life has meaning when she spends time with children, and she enjoys sharing warmth and happiness with the children.
"We'd like to provide a trilingual environment for children under age 6, and to help them develop good life and study habits, as well as lay a foundation for them to have a positive outlook on life, values and the world in the future," Zheng says.
Montessori Baby House is a Friendly Center of UNICEF (United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund). It has 21 teachers to offer online and offline courses and tutoring services, and one-third of those teachers are from China. To date, about 300 children have attended the school.
To promote Chinese culture, the school organizes various activities every year, to celebrate traditional Chinese festivals, such as Chinese Spring Festival, MidAutumn Festival and Dragon Boat Festival.
Zheng has earned both recognition and a solid reputation in Madrid. In November 2018, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Spain. As one of the four designated outstanding overseas Chinese representatives in Spain, Zheng was invited by the Spanish Prime Minister's Office to a luncheon with Xi and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.
"I am proud there are many excellent Chineselanguage schools in Spain. In addition to teaching the language, teachers at the schools also attach great importance to promoting traditional Chinese culture. For Chinese children born and raised in Spain, their overall level of the Chinese language is constantly improving, and their sense of belonging to the motherland is becoming stronger," Zheng says.
When asked about the impact of COVID-19 on the school, Zheng says the pandemic has been a crisis, but also a challenge — and an opportunity — for the school. "During the special period of time, the parents have been impressed by our teachers' professionalism and sense of responsibility. We strictly implemented regular epidemicprevention and -control measures, and we have continued to provide high-quality online and offline courses. Our tutoring service was featured on a program of Telemadrid, a public television station in Madrid. We also organized an online concert for children at our school, and from several primary schools in Beijing, to celebrate International Children's Day together," Zheng says.
She says she is grateful for the parents' support, as they have helped the school pull through the difficulties. For example, tuition fees are normally paid monthly, but some parents paid the fees for a year. Many parents recommended the school to friends and relatives.
When she talks about the future, Zheng says she hopes more children will have access to high-quality education. "We plan to open branches of Montessori Baby House in Spain, to benefit an increasing number of families and their children. We also welcome like-minded people, who are interested in children's education, to join us," Zheng says.
Photos Supplied by Zheng Jingxuan
(Women of China English Monthly September 2021 issue)