Surge in Chinese Language Classes
Chinese class at Penncrest High School, Media, PA
With the U.S. and Chinese governments cheering them on, an increasing number of Delaware Valley schools are offering Chinese instruction. This year’s MetroKids Independent School Survey found that about a quarter of private Philadelphia-area high schools now offer Chinese courses. At least a dozen public school districts and several charter, diocesan and cyber schools also offer courses in Chinese.
Wilmington Friends School in Wilmington, DE, began Chinese instruction this year with 36 students in grades 6-12. “We wanted to offer a non-Western language and it became obvious that Chinese was the choice,” explains head of school Bryan Garman, PhD. “Trends show China to be a place of great political and economic importance.”
Steve Taylor, PhD, secondary learning director at the Rose Tree Media School District in Media, PA, points out that Mandarin Chinese is spoken by more people in the world than any other language. “Why wouldn’t a district offer Chinese?” asks Taylor, whose Chinese program is in its second year. “Given the prominence of China in the world today, it seems a given that Americans should be learning Chinese and engaging with Chinese people.”
According to infoplease.com, Chinese is spoken by more than 1.2 billion people worldwide, compared to about 330 million speakers of English and Spanish.
The Chinese program at Washington Township School District in Sewell, NJ began four years ago and today includes 80 students in grades 9-12. Ray Anderson, the district’s world languages supervisor, says a student needs survey revealed an interest in Chinese.
“There is a very logical connection between Chinese and business, since Chinese is among the most widely spoken languages in the business world,” he says.
“I think Chinese will be a big advantage for a career in business,” says Maeve Sears of Holland, PA who is in her third year of studying Chinese at Archbishop Wood High School in Warminster, PA.
Sally Lopez, world language instruction director at Northern Burlington County Regional School District in Columbus, NJ, says enrollment in Chinese has more than doubled in five years to 127 students.
“A lot of students are planning to continue in college.”
In fact, college students studying Mandarin Chinese more than doubled to 60,976 from 1998 to 2009, according to the Modern Language Association. The U.S. Government’s 100,000 Strong initiative, launched in 2010, seeks to increase the number of U.S. students studying in China to 100,000 in four years. Only 13,000 Americans studied there in 2009. The Chinese government has offered 20,000 scholarships in cooperation.
Chinese Government Support
The Hanban/Confucius Institute, an affiliate of the Chinese government, provides support for instruction in Chinese worldwide. Hanban also helps educators, including teachers from the Washington Township and Northern Burlington County Regional school districts, travel to China to enhance their language skills and knowledge about China.
“Programs designed to teach Chinese to American students weren’t highly designed only five years ago,” says Dr. Garman. “Hanban is doing a nice job of educating teachers on how to teach Chinese to American students.”
Both China and the U.S. want more Americans to speak Chinese. “Virtually no issue on the global agenda can be resolved or dealt with unless the United States and China work closely together,” Kurt Campbell, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs, told this year’s National Chinese Language Conference in San Francisco.
Jo Rizzo is a local freelance writer and Chalfont, PA mother of five.