Chinese foreign language programs grow at schools

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Mon Apr 25 12:54:58 UTC 2005

>>From the St. Petersburg (Florida) Times

While Spanish still reigns in U.S. schools, educators are beginning to
prepare students to deal with an emerging world economic power.
By Associated Press Published April 25, 2005


STUART - Red lanterns, delicate Chinese paper cuttings and poems about
Beijing mountains adorn a small corner of a Stuart classroom that used to
be dominated by Spanish decorations. A dozen eighth-graders file into the
St. Michael's Independent School room, where they are greeted by teacher
Liu Yanling, a Chengdu citizen who is dressed in a brilliant pink and gold
Chinese dress known as qi pao. Liu's class studies these Chinese

"I want to give the kids an introduction to the language and the culture
so at least they can continue on next year," the teacher said. For the
next 40 minutes, Liu, known as Emily to her American colleagues, takes her
students on an exotic journey through ancient empires, modern Chinese
fashion and basic conversational Mandarin. And then the Spanish class
comes in.

Spanish remains, by far, the most prevalent foreign language class offered
in Florida and the United States. But with China's emergence as an
economic power, schools in Palm Beach County and elsewhere on Florida's
south-central Atlantic coast are beginning to expose their students to the
world's most widely spoken language. "We decided to offer Chinese because
of what's happening with the Chinese economy and the world order," St.
Michael's Headmaster Jim Cantwell said.

"China is becoming the world's largest economy, and with one-quarter of
the world's population, we want to prepare our 21st-century students to be
conversant with this culture." The Stuart school began offering Chinese to
seventh- and eighth-graders for the first time this year and is the only
school in its area to do so, according to the Florida Foreign Language

In Palm Beach County, Watson B. Duncan Middle School and William T. Dwyer
High School also began offering Chinese classes this year. They are the
only two public schools in the state to offer Chinese classes, according
to the state Department of Education. Other Palm Beach County students
have access to a Chinese class on television.

"Chinese is the language of the future, if not right now," Dwyer Assistant
Principal Corrine Licata said. "Naturally, we want to get our kids ready
for the international market." More people worldwide speak Mandarin
Chinese, about 1.1-billion, as a primary language than any other language
in the world, according to a study published in Language Today magazine.
English, which has the second-highest total, has 330-million primary

Although 150-million people speak English as a secondary language, just
20-million nonnative speakers understand Mandarin. U.S. schools are
beginning to close that gap. Enrollment in Chinese classes at the K-12
level in the United States grew 65 percent, from 14,490 to 23,850
students, from 1997 to 2002, according to a Princeton University study.

For perspective on how many students that is, consider the total
enrollment in the Martin County School District is about 19,000 students,
or that 5-million U.S. high school students were in Spanish classes in
2002. University of Hawaii Professor Cyndy Ning, executive director of the
Chinese Language Teachers Association, said U.S. schools need to do a
better job of preparing students for lives in the global village.

"American students could use a lot more work getting ready for
international interactions," Ning said. "Compared to other nations in the
world, American schools do not spend as much of their resources getting to
know other nations as other nations' schools spend getting to know
America." In Liu's Chinese class at St. Michael's, eighth-graders are just
trying to master the not-so-simple fundamentals of the peculiar new

"Chinese phonetics are very difficult, and it can be really difficult for
the kids to catch," Liu said. St. Michael's, Duncan Middle and Dwyer High
officials all intend to continue offering Chinese lessons.

At St. Michael's, middle students can continue their studies when their
new high school opens in 2006. At Duncan Middle, students can continue
their Chinese lessons when they feed into Dwyer High.

Officials at St. Michael's and Dwyer say there are plans to start a high
school student exchange program with Chinese schools.

"I've had history and math classes for a long time, so this is a chance to
try something new," St. Michael's eighth-grader Nick Denton said.
"Learning how to pronounce all the different tones is a lot of fun."

 Copyright 2003 St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved

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