Man­darin’s mo­ment

Face­book founder Mark Zucker­berg ad­dressed a Beijing au­di­ence in Man­darin last month. He has been study­ing a lan­guage spo­ken by 1.3 bil­lion Chi­nese, and he’s not alone. The study of Man­darin in the US is boom­ing, WIL­LIAM HEN­NELLY re­ports from New York.

China Daily (Canada) - - IN DEPTH -

Tas­sign­ment. “Ting lao shi (lis­ten to the teacher),” the mostly 4- to 5-year-olds an­swered uni­formly in Man­darin with hardly any for­eign ac­cent.

Soon the class be­gan to get noisy. Sens­ing this, the teacher asked if she should erase some smi­ley faces off the black­board, mak­ing the les­son longer. “Bu” (no), the chil­dren replied. “When I first taught this class, they didn’t un­der­stand what the Chi­nese sto­ry­book was about,” Zhang said. “But after two or three months, they can read many of the char­ac­ters in it.”

“By the time they are 9 or 10, if they turn their backs, you can’t tell” whether they are na­tive Chi­nese or not when speak­ing, said El­iz­a­beth Wil­laum, a veteran lan­guageim­mer­sion ex­pert and di­rec­tor of Hud­son Way. “Learn­ing Chi­nese isn’t just about mar­ketabil­ity,” she said. “When you learn a lan­guage, the cul­ture opens to you.”

Be it at the pri­vate Hud­son Way school on Man­hat­tan’s Up­per West Side or at pub­lic schools in Ken­tucky, In­di­ana and other states, the study of Man­darin in the United States is boom­ing. In some cases, it is re­plac­ing Span­ish, French or other lan­guages that have long been more popular in US schools.

“We see a bump in en­roll­ment in the lan­guages of the coun­tries that we see as eco­nomic com­peti­tors,” said Marty Ab­bott, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Amer­i­can Coun­cil on the Teach­ing of For­eign Lan­guages (ACTFL) in Alexan­dria, Vir­ginia.

“In the 1980s, we def­i­nitely ex­pe­ri­enced a surge in Ja­panese pro­grams,” Ab­bott told China Daily. “I think we’re see­ing some­thing sim­i­lar hap­pen with the in­creased in­ter­est in Chi­nese pro­grams. It re­flects China’s eco­nomic growth, and it’s be­ing seen as the eco­nomic power to com­pete with.”

Over at Av­enues: The World School in Man­hat­tan’s Chelsea sec­tion more than 300 stu­dents from nurs­ery school to grade 3 are en­rolled in an al­ter­nate-day Man­darin im­mer­sion pro­gram. The pri­vate school has close to 40 Man­darin teach­ers.

Founded by noted ed­u­ca­tors and me­dia pro­fes­sion­als Chris Whit­tle, Benno Sch­midt and Alan Green­berg, Av­enues opened in 2012 with 740 stu­dents. It now has 1,270 stu­dents from nurs­ery school to grade 12, with plans for schools in 20 “world” ci­ties, in­clud­ing Beijing, Shang­hai and Hong Kong. he pupils in teacher Zhang Shan­shan’s class at the Hud­son Way Im­mer­sion School were asked what they needed to do to get more smi­ley faces on an Chi­nese an ‘es­sen­tial’ lan­guage

“Chi­nese is an es­sen­tial lan­guage of the 21st cen­tury world,” said Sarah Bayne, global di­rec­tor of Ed­u­ca­tion De­sign at Av­enues. “We are open­ing one of our world schools in Beijing in 2016, be­cause we rec­og­nize the crit­i­cal im­por­tance of China and our re­la­tion­ships there.

“Our model is based on the fact that most of our stu­dents come from English-speak­ing house­holds, so they are all learn­ing Chi­nese as a sec­ond lan­guage,” she said.

The In­ter­net abounds with sto­ries of in­creas­ing de­mand for Chi­nese lan­guage in­struc­tion, and it’s not only hap­pen­ing at af­flu­ent pri­vate schools.

In Louisville, Ken­tucky, the Hite El­e­men­tary School dropped its Span­ish classes and switched to Chi­nese at the be­gin­ning of the school year for pupils in grades K-5. The school cited the Chi­nese count­ing sys­tem as more con­ducive to learn­ing math­e­mat­ics, a sub­ject in which Chi­nese pupils outscore their Western peers on tests.

Min­neapo­lis, Min­nesota, has a pub­licly funded Chi­nese im­mer­sion char­ter school. The Yinghua School (Yinghua means EnglishChi­nese in Man­darin) was fea­tured in an Oct 26 New York Times ar­ti­cle.

In Los An­ge­les, Yoyo Chi­nese, a video-cen­tered on­line Man­darin in­struc­tional pro­gram, an­nounced on Oct 30 that 7 mil­lion lessons have been taken on its web­site.

“Chi­nese stu­dents learn English in high school, read English lit­er­a­ture, watch Amer­i­can tele­vi­sion pro­grams, and im­merse them­selves in Amer­i­can cul­ture,” said Yangyang Cheng, founder and CEO of Yoyo Chi­nese, in a press re­lease. “On the other hand, how much do Americans know about China? English speak­ers learn­ing Chi­nese have rec­og­nized this knowl­edge gap pre­vents them from ac­cess­ing a large per­cent of the world’s pop­u­la­tion, as well as an en­tire reser­voir of knowl­edge con­tained within 5,000 years of his­tory.”

In New York City dur­ing the 2013-2014 school year, 10,583 stu­dents took Chi­nese lan­guage cour­ses across 69 mid­dle and high schools, ac­cord­ing to Will Man­tell, a spokesman for the city’s pub­lic schools. That in­cludes both Man­darin and Can­tonese cour­ses and Chi­nese-lan­guage in­struc­tion for stu­dents who are study­ing it as a for­eign lan­guage, as well as stu­dents whose home lan­guage is Chi­nese.

“Part of our Chi­nese-lan­guage in­struc­tion is in bilin­gual pro­grams that strengthen English lan­guage learn­ers’ na­tive lan­guage de­vel­op­ment and con­tent knowl­edge while they build their so­cial and aca­demic English skills,” he wrote in an e-mail to China Daily. The bilin­gual pro­grams may also in­clude non-lan­guage cour­ses taught in Chi­nese, for ex­am­ple, math taught in Man­darin.

New York had 41 Chi­nese bilin­gual pro­grams in the 2013-2014 school year — 20 were in el­e­men­tary schools, 18 in high schools and three in mid­dle schools. Of the bilin­gual pro­grams, 17 were in Brook­lyn, while Man­hat­tan and Queens had 12 apiece. Go­ing global, too

In Sao Joao da Madei, Por­tu­gal, a shoe­mak­ing cap­i­tal, the study of Man­darin is manda­tory for 8- and 9-year-olds. The Chi­nese taste for lux­ury items ex­tends to fancy Por­tuguese shoes, which are con­sid­ered sec­ond-best in the world to Ital­ian shoes. The Por­tuguese de­duce that Man­darin will help them ex­pand their shoe mar­ket in China, which, ac­cord­ing to Agence France-Presse, went from 10,000 pairs in 2011 to 170,000 pairs in 2013.

Re­cent re­search by the Bri­tish Coun­cil and Han­ban found that 3 per­cent of pri­mary schools, 6 per­cent of state sec­ondary schools and 10 per­cent of in­de­pen­dent schools of­fer Man­darin cour­ses, China Daily re­ported. Over the next five to 10 years, those num­bers are ex­pected to grow by 4 per­cent to 8 per­cent.

“I want Bri­tain linked up to the world’s fast­grow­ing economies, and that in­cludes our young peo­ple learn­ing the lan­guages to seal to­mor­row’s business deals,” UK Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron said in 2013.

“By the time the chil­dren born to­day leave school, China is set to be the world’s largest econ­omy. So it’s time to look beyond the tra­di­tional fo­cus on French and Ger­man and get many more chil­dren learn­ing Man­darin.”

In South Korea, the num­ber of peo­ple tak­ing the of­fi­cial Chi­nese pro­fi­ciency test has risen to 110,000 in 2013 from 400 in 1993.

The ACTFL’s lat­est survey on the num­ber of stu­dents tak­ing for­eign lan­guages in grades K-12 in the US was con­ducted in 2007-2008. In that school year, there were 60,000 stu­dents study­ing Man­darin, an in­crease of 195 per­cent com­pared with the 2004-2005 survey, the high­est jump of any lan­guage.

Shuhan C. Wang, di­rec­tor of the Chi­nese Early Lan­guage and Im­mer­sion Net­work (CELIN) at the Asia So­ci­ety, es­ti­mated that the num­ber is eas­ily above 100,000 now, and count­ing stu­dents of Chi­nese her­itage study­ing pri­vately, about 300,000, she said.

“Chi­nese pro­grams are grow­ing,” Wang told China Daily. “The field is grow­ing. Be­cause it’s grow­ing, we don’t have a very good mech­a­nism or money to col­lect data. All the data is out­dated. The Amer­i­can coun­cil (ACTFL) data is the lat­est of­fi­cial data we have.

“In K-12, def­i­nitely over 100,000 stu­dents tak­ing Chi­nese, not in­clud­ing Chi­nese her­itage stu­dents,” Wang said. “That’s another 150,000 stu­dents. Their home lan­guage is Chi­nese. We have over 250,000 stu­dents tak­ing Chi­nese in the coun­try; over 300,000, in­clud­ing the univer­si­ties.”

Wang said the rea­sons for study­ing Chi­nese or other for­eign lan­guages are ob­vi­ous.

“In or­der to com­pete in the global mar­ket, you can no longer com­pete with your neigh­bor­ing state; in­stead, you need to com­pete with your neigh­bor­ing coun­try or any coun­try in the world where the la­bor force is cheap — but good,” she said. “Global com­pe­tency has be­come a very im­por­tant con­cept in ed­u­ca­tion, although it has not been as prom­i­nent as what we would like to see for the 21st cen­tury, but it is com­ing up.”

“Par­ents and stu­dents are look­ing at bilin­gual­ism, es­pe­cially learn­ing Chi­nese, as a ticket to fu­ture mar­kets and jobs and as an as­set for per­sonal hu­man cap­i­tal,” said Wang. “You use the tar­get lan­guage, the buyer’s lan­guage to open the con­ver­sa­tion and the mar­ket, but you use English to close the deal. Use their lan­guage and cul­ture to win their trust and to build re­la­tion­ships, and that’s No 1 to open­ing the mar­ket,” she said.

Wang’s CELIN net­work, which started in 2012, num­bers 150 schools and is grow­ing. Thirty-seven of the im­mer­sion schools are in Cal­i­for­nia; 26 are in Utah, a state that has an Asian-Amer­i­can pop­u­la­tion of only 2 per­cent. Jon Huntsman lends a hand

“When Jon Huntsman [a Chi­nese speaker] was the gov­er­nor there, he de­cided that Utah will de­velop stu­dents and a work­force that is pro­fi­cient in world lan­guages, mainly Chi­nese, French, and Span­ish,” ex­plained Wang. “The goal was to es­tab­lish dual-lan­guage im­mer­sion pro­grams. Then the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ed­u­ca­tion Pro­gram es­tab­lished a Chi­nese Lan­guage flag­ship pro­gram to support the Utah ini­tia­tive.”

The Lan­guage Flag­ship spon­sors Chi­nese pro­grams at 11 US univer­si­ties, which aim to pro­vide un­der­grad­u­ates with “path­ways to pro­fes­sional-level pro­fi­ciency in Chi­nese along­side the aca­demic ma­jor of their choice.”

Yea-Fen Chen, di­rec­tor of the Chi­nese Flag­ship Pro­gram at In­di­ana Univer­sity in Bloom­ing­ton, said that stu­dents are study­ing Chi­nese at an ear­lier age, and she sees “a very high level of pro­fi­ciency” in stu­dents by the time they reach col­lege. The pub­lic schools in Mon­roe County, where In­di­ana Univer­sity is lo­cated, just started of­fer­ing Chi­nese.

Chi­nese is the most popular lan­guage at STARTALK, a fed­eral pro­gram es­tab­lished in 2006 that sup­ports sum­mer pro­grams for stu­dents and train­ing for teach­ers in 11 “crit­i­cal needs” lan­guages. It is ad­min­is­tered by the Na­tional For­eign Lan­guage Cen­ter at the Univer­sity of Maryland. In 2014, STARTALK of­fered 55 Chi­nese pro­grams for stu­dents and 40 for teach­ers, com­pared with 2007, when there were 18 for stu­dents and 17 for teach­ers.

“Now that China has opened up con­sid­er­ably for trade and tourism and has be­come more mar­ket-ori­ented, Americans find it fas­ci­nat­ing cul­tur­ally and his­tor­i­cally,” Cather­ine In­gold, di­rec­tor of the Na­tional For­eign Lan­guage Cen­ter and prin­ci­pal in­ves­ti­ga­tor for the STARTALK pro­gram, wrote to China Daily in an e-mail.

As the pro­grams grow, so does the need for teach­ers. Chen said “we’re not pro­duc­ing enough qual­i­fied teach­ers to meet the needs of stu­dents, es­pe­cially K-12”.

Said CELIN’s Wang: “We still need a lot more teach­ers, and more ef­fec­tive teach­ers. The guest teach­ers from China, mostly brought here by an ini­tia­tive un­der the Col­lege Board, have been able to fill this void.

“If we had more home-grown teach­ers, the quan­tity and qual­ity of Chi­nese pro­grams in the US would be greatly en­hanced,” Wang said. “The guest teach­ers are re­ally good and bring in a fresh per­spec­tive and au­then­tic Chi­nese cul­ture. But they are re­stricted by pol­icy that they can only stay here for up to three years. Most of them stay for one or two years, which is a lot of sacrifice on their part.”

At the Asia So­ci­ety, a NewYork-based ed­u­ca­tional or­ga­ni­za­tion founded by John D. Rock­e­feller III in 1956, Jeff Wang is the di­rec­tor of Chi­nese Lan­guage Ini­tia­tives and Ed­u­ca­tion and over­sees 100 pairs of sis­ter schools in the US and China.

“We work with them to im­prove their Chi­nese lan­guage pro­grams,” he said of the schools. “Our goal is re­ally to find a group of schools that have the po­ten­tial to be ex­em­plary pro­grams for the re­gion or for the coun­try. The pro­gram needs to be good. Our big­gest is­sue is teacher qual­ity, in­struc­tor qual­ity and ef­fec­tive­ness. We have about 300 teach­ers in our net­work; 90-plus per­cent of them are Amer­i­can-based teach­ers.” Con­fu­cius Class­rooms

Also help­ing meet the de­mand for Chi­nese in­struc­tion is the Beijing-based Han­ban, part of China’s Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion. In the US, Han­ban op­er­ates Con­fu­cius In­sti­tutes on 97 col­lege cam­puses and runs 357 Con­fu­cius Class­rooms in the K-12 cat­e­gory. World­wide, those num­bers are 443 and 648, re­spec­tively, ac­cord­ing to Han­ban’s web­site.

“Schools are in­ter­ested in of­fer­ing Chi­nese be­cause they do see some fi­nan­cial in­cen­tives from the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment, fund­ing Con­fu­cius Class­rooms at the K-12 level,” Ab­bott of ACTFL said.

Han­ban’s stated goals are: to make poli­cies and de­vel­op­ment plans for pro­mot­ing the Chi­nese lan­guage in­ter­na­tion­ally; to support Chi­nese lan­guage pro­grams at ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions of var­i­ous types and lev­els in other coun­tries; and to draft in­ter­na­tional Chi­nese teach­ing stan­dards and de­velop and pro­mote Chi­nese lan­guage teach­ing ma­te­ri­als.”

The US has the most Con­fu­cius pro­grams by far. Those pro­grams have run into some con­tro­versy in North Amer­ica. Penn State Univer­sity and the Univer­sity of Chicago have dropped Con­fu­cius In­sti­tutes from their cam­puses, cit­ing is­sues of aca­demic free­dom.

Wang looks at those sit­u­a­tions more as “in­ci­dents of cul­tural com­mu­ni­ca­tions break­down” rather than re­jec­tion of the pro­grams.

“The Chi­nese come in with their view of how things should be done, and not be­ing fa­mil­iar with how Americans do things, and vice-versa,” she said. “I have vis­ited nu­mer­ous Con­fu­cius In­sti­tutes. Ev­ery Con­fu­cius In­sti­tute is dif­fer­ent de­pend­ing on what ac­tiv­i­ties they pro­pose to Han­ban.”

“Let it be fact-based,” said Jeff Wang, on the dis­agree­ment be­tween some Con­fu­cius In­sti­tutes and their hosts in the US. “If there are clauses in the agree­ment … points in the ar­range­ment of the col­lab­o­ra­tion that are in­con­sis­tent with the val­ues and in­tegrity of those in­sti­tu­tions in the US, then they should be re­viewed and ne­go­ti­ated un­til sat­is­fac­tory. Bring them out … and you can ne­go­ti­ate that away.”

“What I think is most im­por­tant is en­gage­ment,” he said. “By hav­ing a Chi­nese in­sti­tu­tion have a pres­ence on an Amer­i­can cam­pus, we should have con­fi­dence in the in­tel­li­gence and crit­i­cal think­ing and skills of the Amer­i­can pub­lic, whether it’s stu­dents or fac­ulty of th­ese truly great in­sti­tu­tions. They’re not eas­ily per­suaded one way or the other.

“Great in­sti­tu­tions should be able to man­age that in­flu­ence much bet­ter than los­ing that ben­e­fit al­to­gether. They’re [the per­son­nel com­ing from China to work with Con­fu­cius In­sti­tutes] also be­ing in­flu­enced by Americans.”

Wang said the value of the en­gage­ment out­weighs the nega­tives that can arise be­tween two dif­fer­ent cul­tures.

Lui Hui­quan con­trib­uted to this story. Con­tact the writer at williamhen­nelly@chi­nadai­


Zhang Shan­shan teaches Kalen McBrien, 5, ba­sic Man­darin vo­cab­u­lary about col­ors and fruits at the Hud­son Way Im­mer­sion School.

A pupil copies a Chi­nese pas­sage from a text­book at the Hud­son Way School, New York. Pupils are gen­er­ally ca­pa­ble of un­der­stand­ing and writ­ing short pas­sages by ages 6-7.

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