Let's Learn A Little Huà Xué

I’m fluent in Mandarin Chinese, but if you ask me to take a chemistry course in Mandarin, I’d most likely flunk. I do know the phrase for “chemistry” in Mandarin, however. It’s huà xué: chinese_chemistry.jpg I was impressed when I heard that seven high school students in Columbus, Ohio, are taking general chemistry in Mandarin. Mandarin is one of the most challenging foreign languages to learn, and even after you've mastered conversational Mandarin, learning how to pronounce chemical terms can be like learning an entirely new language. I called up Pinpin Peng, who teaches this unique course at Metro Early College High School, in Columbus, and asked her why she started this class. It's highly selective and to get accepted, students must have taken three trimesters of Mandarin and aced their previous science courses. All of the lectures are in Mandarin, with all written text in English. The labs are also conducted in English, for safety reasons. I'll go into more detail about my conversation with Peng in an upcoming Newscripts column. In the meantime, have you ever studied chemistry in another language, perhaps during a study abroad trip? Feel free to blog about your experience here. I may incorporate your story into my Newscripts column!

Author: Linda Wang

Associate Editor, Chemical & Engineering News

Share This Post On


  1. I’m a native Mandarin speaker in Guangzhou.

    I guess some difficulties lies in:
    Numbers and ranks (?~?, ?, ?, ?, ?, ?, ?, ?, ?, ?, ?)
    Non-IUPAC nomenclatures (e.g. lactic acid)
    Heterocyclic molecules (e.g. ?, ?)

    I found it easier to guarantee the clearness in only one language. My choice is English because 99.99% of the literature I read are in English. Sometimes I can only name a structure in English.

    For native Chinese however, the difficulties in front of English terms of chemistry may be prononciation. How to pronounce amine? A-mine or A-meen? or a-MINE? And I’m always confused with naphthalene. What does it look like when you read throught the ‘-phth-‘?

  2. It seems that the comment form is not submitting information in UTF-8 format…

  3. Andrew, the comment issue appears to be a common one in wordpress. We’ve implemented a fix, so you can try reposting the characters if you’d like.

  4. I’m a native German speaker. I had part of my university education in Germany (in German), then after two years I moved to France, where I have classes in French and English. Of course these languages are quite close to one another as far as chemistry terms are concerned, but there is still some vocabulary one needs to acquire (for example, glassware… ack!)

  5. I am a native Mandarin speaker too, but since I came from Malaysia, we will have to go to a national school. Courses are taught in our national language (the Malay language). The terms is quite similar, with few modification, and some term “borrowed” from the English language. Of course, when we come to Uni, everything is taught in English! Ha… there will be a short period of adjustment for all of us. As for those taking courses in Mandarin… I salute you! Agree on the new language. Chemistry in Mandarin is a completely new world. Wow. I see some of them (who come from chinese private boarding school) carrying a big dictionary when they come to the lab. They have to work double hard for translations and lab work.