Thousands of American school children are learning to speak Chinese:In a sign of China's growing influence, the notoriously tongue-twisting Chinese language is now among the fastest-growing foreign languages studied in U.S. schools. The trend has been spurred by China's growing global influence, and the visit of Chinese President Hu Jintao to the United States this week has highlighted booming trade ties.Read the whole thing.
Marty Abbot, director of education at the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, estimates about 50,000 students in grades 7-12 are studying Chinese in U.S. state and private schools, up from just 5,000 students in 2000.
"Nobody had any idea that this boom was going to happen so quickly," said Abbot.
China's hectic economic growth has spurred demand in business and government agencies for Mandarin language speakers. And America's interest in all things Chinese -- a language spoken by more than 1.4 billion worldwide -- shows little sign of slowing.
In the greater Boston area, the number of secondary schools offering Chinese has climbed to 8 from one since 1983, said Lin Yu-Lan, director of Boston's world languages program. Four Boston schools added Chinese programs this year alone.
Foreign language studies still remain overwhelmingly Eurocentric in the United States. About 87 percent of high school students study either Spanish or French, according to a recent U.S. Department of Education report. German is the third-most popular followed by Latin.
Abbot said the allure of the world's most widely spoken language is simple: Few people are mastering it in the United States. Those who do could have an important competitive advantage as China emerges as a global superpower.
"We don't have enough Chinese speakers in government positions," said Abbot. "It's a serious concern."
The U.S. government is paying attention, allocating $1.3 billion over six years to Chinese language programs under the U.S.-China Cultural Engagement Act, which if passed by Congress will also create cultural exchange programs and bolster the teaching of Chinese at home and abroad.
Our 14-year-old daughter (the TeenWonk) would dearly love to study Chinese. Both the WifeWonk and I are strongly supportive, as having a working-knowledge of Chinese would be a definate plus in today's job market.
Unfortunately, the local school system here in California's "Imperial" Valley has actually been reducing its foreign language offerings. As the TeenWonk is already fluent in Spanish, it looks as though, by default, she'll be studying French.
As an aside, I guess our criticism of the Chinese regime has probably doomed these pages to the censorship that the so-called "Peoples" Republic imposes on everyone and anyone who is even mildly critical of the regime's suppression of their own citizenry's yearning for freedom of labor, religious expression, press, academic independence, and other basic human rights.