As more peo­ple study Chi­nese, can it over­take English as a global lin­gua franca?

Global Times - - View Point - By Yang Shi­long and Xu Xing­tang The au­thors are writ­ers with the Xin­hua News Agency. The ar­ti­cle first ap­peared in Xin­hua. opinion@glob­al­times.com.cn

When Mor­gan Jones first started learn­ing Chi­nese at Mid­dle­bury Col­lege in the US north­east­ern state of Ver­mont, there were only 10 stu­dents for that first year class. By the time he grad­u­ated from the col­lege, the stu­dents in that same first year class reached 60.

“That means the num­ber grew to at least six times the num­ber since I started,” re­called Jones, now Chief Op­er­at­ing Of­fi­cer of the US-China Strong Foun­da­tion, dur­ing a re­cent in­ter­view with the Xin­hua News Agency.

The Wash­ing­ton DC-based non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tion is lead­ing a Chi­nese lan­guage ed­u­ca­tion ini­tia­tive called “1 Mil­lion Strong.”

The ini­tia­tive seeks to ex­pand to 1 mil­lion the num­ber of US K-12 stu­dents learn­ing Man­darin by 2020.

“We’ve def­i­nitely seen a lot of growth ini­tially, when we an­nounced the pro­gram [in 2015], there were some­where around 200,000 Amer­i­cans learn­ing Chi­nese. There are cur­rently 400,000 learn­ing Chi­nese,” said Jones, who speaks flu­ent Man­darin him­self.

“For the first time across the na­tion, you saw Chi­nese in­struc­tion in ele­men­tary schools, mid­dle schools and high schools ... I think, it con­tin­ues to grow,” Charles Laugh­lin, East Asian Stud­ies and De­part­ment Chair, Univer­sity of Vir­ginia, told Xin­hua via phone.

“The most sig­nif­i­cant new as­pect of this Chi­nese Fever was that it went down to the level of pri­mary and sec­ondary school ed­u­ca­tion,” said Laugh­lin, who spe­cial­izes in mod­ern Chi­nese lit­er­a­ture.

Chi­nese was cat­e­go­rized along with Ara­bic, Swahili and Ice­landic as a “Less Com­monly Taught Lan­guage” in the US when Laugh­lin was in col­lege in the US state of Min­nesota about 30 years ago,

Now, the world’s old­est writ­ten lan­guage is the sec­ond most com­monly spo­ken non-English lan­guage, only af­ter Span­ish, in the US.

“There was an English fever in China when I left for the US, now we are see­ing a Chi­nese Fever here,” said Chen Jin­guo, a Chi­nese teacher with the China In­sti­tute, a non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tion in the US ded­i­cated to ad­vanc­ing a deeper un­der­stand­ing of China.

Chen, who im­mi­grated to the US in the early 1990s, noted young Chi­nese have been fu­ri­ously learn­ing English for years, par­tic­u­larly af­ter the 2008 Sum­mer Olympics in Beijing.

It is es­ti­mated about 300 mil­lion Chi­nese, nearly as many peo­ple as there are in the US, are English lan­guage learn­ers in China.

Mean­while, there were some 353,000 Chi­nese stu­dents study­ing in the US, ac­count­ing for 34 per­cent of the to­tal num­ber of in­ter­na­tional stu­dents in the coun­try, ac­cord­ing to a re­port pub­lished by US Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment in May 2016.

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