Tuesday, December 27, 2005

How About A Side Order Of Mandarin With That English?

Considering that many schools are cutting-back or even eliminating elective classes, here's some news out of the heartland that we really like:
A suburban Kansas City-area school district plans to add Chinese to its curriculum next year, making it the third area school system to teach the language.

"We just can't ignore the whole area (East Asia) anymore," said Dan Lumley, director of curriculum and instruction for the Lee's Summit School District. "It's just unfair to the kids."

On the Kansas side of the Kansas City area, the Shawnee Mission and Olathe districts teach the language. According to the education departments in Kansas and Missouri, the only other district to teach Chinese in those states is St. Louis' public schools.

The Kansas Consortium for Teaching About Asia at the University of Kansas is promoting Chinese instruction in Kansas City-area schools. It is arranging for Chinese exchange teachers for the Lee's Summit and Shawnee Mission districts.

The Shawnee Mission teacher, Hongli Wang, has been there since September, and the Lee's Summit's teacher is expected to be there in January.

Tanya Low, who has taught Chinese in the Shawnee Mission district for about 12 years, said Wang is a big help.

"I can get their attention and get them focused," Low said of her students. "I cannot give them authenticity."

Lumley said that without the exchange teacher, the Lee's Summit district couldn't add the Chinese class.

District officials said the course has generated a lot of interest and could serve 150 students. Shawnee Mission has 23 students, Olathe has five and St. Louis has 122.

Those who believe teaching Chinese is important point out that trade between the U.S. and China is growing. U.S. trade with China exceeded $230 billion last year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, trailing only Canada and Mexico.

It's difficult to learn. To read Chinese, one must know thousands of characters, because the language does not have an alphabet. And when speaking Chinese, tone can determine meaning. For example, "ask" and "kiss" are pronounced the same in Chinese but are differentiated by tones.
We get excited whenever we learn of a school system expanding its foreign language offerings. The ability to speak another language is one of the most marketable skills that a student can learn in school.

Because Chinese is such a difficult language to learn, I just wish that instruction would begin in the elementary grades.

When it comes to learning another language, sooner is much better than later.
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