Snohomish County (WA): Chinese spoken here

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Fri Dec 8 13:25:16 UTC 2006

Wednesday, December 6, 2006 - 12:00 AM

Chinese spoken here

By Lynn Thompson Times Snohomish County Bureau A number of the counties'
largest school districts are adding Asian languages to their course
offerings. Snohomish High School this year introduced an Advanced
Placement Mandarin Chinese course, becoming one of the first districts in
the state to teach the new curriculum. Edmonds-Woodway High School hired a
Chinese teacher in the fall and launched its first two classes. Mukilteo,
Marysville and Northshore district high schools offer beginning through
advanced Japanese.

But don't look for an Asian language in the Everett School District.
Despite the growing political and economic clout of Pacific Rim countries,
only the traditional European languages French, Spanish and German are
offered at Everett's three high schools. Some Everett parents say that
puts their students at a disadvantage in an increasingly global
marketplace. They'd like the district to offer more world languages and to
introduce them earlier.

Language opportunities

Foreign Language for Youth (FLY) is a nonprofit that offers before- and
after-school classes at 29 schools in 13 districts, including Edmonds,
Mukilteo, Marysville, Northshore and Everett. FLY teaches Spanish, French,
Japanese and Mandarin Chinese twice a week in 40-minute sessions. The cost
is $244 per student per year. FLY makes scholarships available for
low-income students. For information, call Konni Barich at 425-290-2831.
The John Stanford International School is located in Seattle. It will
offer a seminar for parents and educators on creating Chinese-language
programs in schools from 4-7 p.m. Jan. 11 at 4057 Fifth Ave. N.E. in
Seattle. For information, "How
many people speak German? French is supposed to be romantic, but the
reality is, we need some Asian languages. That's where the future is,"
said Linda Carbajal, a parent at Gateway Middle School in the Silver Firs

But district officials say they're not convinced students would sign up
for Asian languages. When Gateway and Heatherwood middle schools offered
before-school language classes this fall, not enough students signed up
for a Mandarin class and it was canceled. Officials also fear that adding
a new language would jeopardize the languages already in place. "If we're
going to expand world languages, we'd like to expand our current offerings
to middle school," said Terry Edwards, director of curriculum and
assessment for the Everett schools. "If we added another language, German
or French would disappear, and we've worked hard to get good people and
good instructional materials."

Poor foreign-language skills of Americans are increasingly becoming a
national concern. In October, the federal government announced $22 million
in grants to districts to increase the number of students learning
languages deemed critical to national security and commerce. Chinese,
Arabic, Farsi, Russian and Hindi were identified as languages that too few
Americans understand. "When it comes to foreign languages, our students
get started too late and too few study critical languages. We can and must
turn this around,"  U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings said in
announcing grants to 22 states. In Washington, only the Seattle School
District received some of the federal money. In Oregon, the Portland
Public Schools received $700,000 to develop a kindergarten-through-college
immersion program in Mandarin Chinese, the world's most common language,
spoken by an estimated 1.3 billion people.

Because of its large number of Asian immigrants and close trade ties to
Asia, the West Coast has led much of the country in bringing Asian
languages to public schools, said Marty Abbott, director of education for
the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, in New York.
But she noted that the language requirements in many states, including
Washington, call for only two years of high-school foreign language, and
only for those students bound for four-year colleges. "That reinforces the
idea that language is something you get into college with, not a vital
skill for the 21st century," she said.

The biggest challenge for districts wanting to add Asian languages is
finding qualified teachers. Edmonds-Woodway High School last year wanted
to add a language that would be "relevant" to the world and one that would
complement its International Baccalaureate Program, said Principal Alan
Weiss. Given the choice of either Arabic or Chinese, a majority of
students chose Chinese. The district advertised in education journals, and
then in regional publications aimed at Asian readers, before finding the
new teacher, Christina Kwong, a native Chinese speaker who previously
taught in the Mercer Island schools. Sixty students are enrolled in the
first two classes at Edmonds-Woodway.  Kwong said she's "thrilled," and
her students are absorbing the language and culture. "They talk about
wanting to travel or do business in China.  They see a future for
themselves speaking Chinese," she said.

The county's longest-running Chinese program, at Snohomish High School, is
in its 21st year. Snohomish is one of only a handful of Washington schools
offering fourth-year Chinese, and this fall it introduced Advanced
Placement Mandarin Chinese. Bin Yang, who has taught Chinese at Snohomish
the past 11 years, said it's a myth that Chinese is harder than French or
Spanish. She said Chinese doesn't have tenses, those changeable verb forms
every beginning student of French or Spanish struggles to conjugate. But
it does have a range of tones, which give different meanings to the same
word. "Tones," she sighed. "Half the semester gone, and we are still
working on tones."

Everett parents aren't waiting for their district to act. The PTAs at
Heatherwood and Gateway middle schools this fall sponsored before-school
classes in Japanese, Spanish and French. Chinese also might have been
offered, but too few students signed up. "That was disappointing because
Chinese is going to be a power language,"  Carbajal said. "I don't think
some parents realize that yet." Konni Barich, the director of Foreign
Language for Youth (FLY), a nonprofit language-instruction program, said
language acquisition is most effective when it begins early. Young kids
are better mimics of strange sounds and are intrigued by what seems to
them "secret codes." She said FLY classes feature dialogue, songs and
games to keep the learning fun.

FLY introduced Japanese in an after-school setting in the Mukilteo schools
in 1995. Within a few years, the district made Japanese part of the
high-school curriculum, Barich said. Everett parent Jeff Heckathorn calls
Everett's failure to add an Asian language "short-sighted." He has
addressed the School Board and met with administrators to lobby for the
addition of an Asian language. Heckathorn, a communications engineer,
frequently travels to Asia on business. He said Everett students need to
be competent citizens of the world, and speaking Asian languages will
increasingly be a measure of that competence. "We want more world
languages, and we want them started earlier. It seems like a no-brainer to

Lynn Thompson: 425-745-7807 or lthompson at

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