App-ti­tude

Smart­phone apps boost Chi­nese lan­guage learn­ing in the US

Global Times – Metro Beijing - - FRONT PAGE -

When Charles Laugh­lin was in col­lege in Min­nesota about 30 years ago, Chi­nese was cat­e­go­rized along with Ara­bic, Swahili and Ice­landic as a less com­monly taught lan­guage in the US.

Now, the world’s oldest writ­ten lan­guage is the sec­ond most widely spo­ken non-English lan­guage af­ter Span­ish in the US with over 2.1 mil­lion speak­ers, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent sur­vey by 24/7 Wall Str., a widely-quoted Delaware com­pany.

Chi­nese en­ters pri­mary and sec­ondary schools

“The most sig­nif­i­cant new as­pect of this ‘Chi­nese lan­guage fever’ is that it goes down to the level of pri­mary and sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion,” said Laugh­lin, the de­part­ment chair of East Asian Stud­ies at the Univer­sity of Vir­ginia, in a re­cent phone in­ter­view with the Xin­hua News Agency.

“For the first time across the na­tion, you saw Chi­nese in­struc­tion in el­e­men­tary, mid­dle and high school. I think it con­tin­ues to grow,” said Laugh­lin, who spe­cial­izes in Mod­ern Chi­nese Lit­er­a­ture.

Laugh­lin’s lat­est Chi­nese ar­ti­cle, ti­tled Jazz, Ed­u­ca­tion and Amer­i­can Cul­ture un­der his Chi­nese name, Luo Fulin, was car­ried in the 4th edi­tion of the 2017 Hua Cheng (Flower City) mag­a­zine, one of the fa­mous bi-monthly lit­er­ary mag­a­zines in China.

Cur­rent fig­ures re­veal that over 200,000 stu­dents are ac­tively study­ing Chi­nese in the US, with more ex­pected to fol­low. The US-China Strong Foun­da­tion, a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion that seeks to strengthen US-China re­la­tions by in­vest­ing in a new gen­er­a­tion of lead­ers who have the knowl­edge and skills to en­gage with China, said it aims to in­crease the num­ber of US K-12 stu­dents learn­ing Chi­nese to 1 mil­lion by 2020.

At the univer­sity level, Laugh­lin said there was a large in­crease in the num­ber of US stu­dents learn­ing Chi­nese but that it has fallen in the past four or five years.

“[It is] not be­cause of a change of at­ti­tude. I think it may be be­cause some of the stu­dents who were ini­tially in­ter­ested in tak­ing Chi­nese might have over­es­ti­mated their abil­ity to learn the lan­guage,” he said.

“It is im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that the in­crease at the univer­sity level is still much higher than it was 20 years ago. Now, Chi­nese is No.3 in most uni­ver­si­ties, some­times No.2. It is the most widely taken for­eign lan­guage af­ter Span­ish and French. This has never hap­pened be­fore; it was not the case when I was in col­lege.”

Chi­nese lan­guage stud­ies in the US did not sud­denly be­gin 10 or 20 years ago. Amer­i­can uni­ver­si­ties have had Chi­nese lan­guage pro­fes­sors since the late 19th cen­tury, Laugh­lin said.

Learn­ing Chi­nese in the US took off in the 1950s and 1960s, and the lan­guage be­came in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar when China started its re­form and open­ing-up pol­icy in the late 1970s.

“At around the end of the 20th cen­tury, China’s achieve­ments be­came very in­cred­i­ble, and its global in­flu­ence de­vel­oped very fast, which raised the pro­file of Chi­nese lan­guage very high,” Laugh­lin said.

Chi­nese-learn­ing apps com­ple­ment tra­di­tional class­room teach­ing

Mary Hoff­man, a teacher from Brooklyn in New York, once felt learn­ing Chi­nese was very hard be­cause she did not have na­tive speak­ers to prac­tice the tones with.

“I stud­ied Span­ish be­cause I used to work in a Span­ish neigh­bor­hood. I can carry on a ba­sic con­ver­sa­tion with the par­ents about their job now, and I’m sure it’s go­ing to take longer in Chi­nese, just be­cause of the tones. So, that’s the chal­lenge for Amer­i­cans,” Hoff­man told Xin­hua re­cently at the end of her first Chi­nese class at the China In­sti­tute in Lower Man­hat­tan in New York City.

“[It is even harder] if you don’t have the op­por­tu­nity to hear it many times when you go home; it’s not like you can study it from a book in the same way that you could with Span­ish, which is more pho­netic, or any other lan­guage,” she said.

“[Now,] with the as­sis­tance of a com­puter it would be a bit eas­ier.”

She was re­fer­ring to on­line re­sources, in­clud­ing smart­phone apps, for Chi­nese learn­ing that have sprung up over the years.

A quick search for “Chi­nese learn­ing apps” on Google.com yields over 31.7 mil­lion re­sults.

“Smart­phone apps have been a re­ally help­ful tool be­cause they al­low me to study Chi­nese while I’m on the sub­way or in a cof­fee shop,” wrote Sborto Zhou, an edi­tor who has stud­ied Chi­nese for over five years, in his ar­ti­cle The 12 best apps to learn Chi­nese on your smart­phone or tablet.

In his opin­ion, some of the best apps for learn­ing Chi­nese are Skrit­ter, which teaches users how to write Chi­nese char­ac­ters; Flu­entU, which shows users how to im­prove their lan­guage level through lan­guage im­mer­sion; and The Chair­man’s Bao, an on­line news­pa­per that has been sim­pli­fied for peo­ple learn­ing Chi­nese.

Pop­u­lar Chi­nese so­cial me­dia plat­form WeChat is also con­sid­ered one of the best plat­forms for Chi­nese lan­guage learn­ers to use to in­ter­act with na­tive Chi­nese speak­ers, as it al­lows one to meet new peo­ple.

“All these sim­ple and ac­ces­si­ble re­sources have rev­o­lu­tion­ized tra­di­tional Chi­nese lan­guage teach­ing,” said Chen Jin­guo, an in­struc­tor who has been teach­ing at the China In­sti­tute for more than 20 years.

“By em­bed­ding them within cur­ric­ula, my classes are more in­ter­est­ing, in­ter­ac­tive and en­gag­ing for lo­cal stu­dents.”

Photo: IC

Smart­phone apps make it eas­ier for peo­ple in the US to learn Chi­nese. Send your tips, in­sights or pho­tos to metrobj@glob­al­times.com.cn, or call our news line: +86 10 6536 7512 Ad­dress: The Global Times English Edi­tion, 2 Jin­tai Xilu, Chaoyang Dis­trict, Bei­jing 100026.

Photo: Li Hao/GT Page Edi­tor: lilin@glob­al­times.com.cn

Chi­nese lan­guage stud­ies have be­come more and more pop­u­lar in the In­ter­net era.

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