Smartphone apps boost Chinese language learning in the US
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.”
Smartphone apps make it easier for people in the US to learn Chinese. Send your tips, insights or photos to firstname.lastname@example.org, or call our news line: +86 10 6536 7512 Address: The Global Times English Edition, 2 Jintai Xilu, Chaoyang District, Beijing 100026.
Chinese language studies have become more and more popular in the Internet era.