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Mandarin Class Develops International Friendships through Pen Pal Letters

Mandarin Class Develops International Friendships through Pen Pal Letters

Students learning Mandarin at Mt. Vernon High School (MVHS) have developed new friendships with students from high schools in Taipei, Taiwan, thanks to the class pen pal project. Being the eighth school year of students writing letters, there is hope this year to meet several of their Taiwan friends when they visit the US this spring.

MVHS Mandarin Teacher, Yi-Fan Lin, has been incorporating numerous creative international activities to help engage her students in their learning. Before teaching at MVHS, Lin was an English teacher in Taiwan. When starting the pen pal program with her MVHS students, she was able to reach out to English teachers in Taiwan for exchanges at Taipei Neihu Senior High School, Taipei Shilin High School of Commerce, Danfeng Senior High School, Banqiao Senior High School, Daxi Senior High School, and Yuanlin Home-Economics and Commercial Vocational Senior High School.


The pen pal letters provide hands-on learning for students at MVHS learning Mandarin and students in Taiwan learning English. MVHS students can improve their Mandarin while helping their new Taiwanese friends improve their English. Students are assigned one or two pen pals in Taiwan depending on class sizes. While MVHS classes average 25 students, in Taiwan, there can be around 40 students. 

Yi-Fan Lin, the Mandarin teacher, explained, “One of my favorite parts of working on the pen pal activity is that students get to make a friend from another country and learn from a person around their age.” 

The students will start by filming a video introduction in class and share their name, grade, and then a fun fact in the language they are learning. The purpose of starting this way is to help the students put a face to a name, as well as serve as an opportunity to begin a personal friendship. 

Next, the students write their letters in Mandarin on one side and English on the other. This is to help ensure understanding while learning the language. The first letters sent are introductions about themselves, including their interests and high school activities. 

MVHS students explain how they find it comforting to know that high school students internationally may go through or experience many of the same things even being on the other side of the country. Reagan Britt, a current junior Mandarin student, explained, “The most enjoyable part about writing pen pal letters was getting to look into the everyday lives of my pen pals in Taiwan. It allowed me to practice Mandarin in a new way and get more comfortable with it.” 

Another student, Annelise Hiner a current senior Mandarin student, shared, “What I enjoyed most was seeing the world through the lens of a Taiwanese student. It was really interesting getting to learn about their culture and some of the things we had in common. We were so different, yet so alike, in numerous ways.”

This pen pal activity is only offered to students in classes Mandarin II and III. It gives students in Mandarin I something to look forward to. After receiving their first letter, students will write a digital card to send to their pen pal. In the fall, MVHS students wrote a digital holiday card to their pen pals to help explain some of the American holidays.


Last year, one of Lin’s classes was able to set up a time to connect over Google Meet with the pen pal class in Taiwan. MVHS students joined the virtual connection at 8 p.m. due to the time difference between the two countries. They logged in to Google Meet from home, while in Taiwan, the students were at school in the early morning.

Because MVHS Mandarin classes are only a semester, it typically only leaves enough time for one letter to be sent and one letter to be received through the mail. Lin wishes her students could send more letters but international mail and time differences between the two countries can cause challenges for frequent video conferencing. 

MVCSC celebrates students' engagement in cultural learning. This new international friendship is an experience that MVHS Mandarin students will likely always remember as a very special personal connection. Pen Pal Letters are one of many creative and enriching activities going on in the Mandarin Classes.