April-June 2010| By Karen Leong Clancy and Jane Leung LarsonA panel of Chinese language education experts concluded the San Francisco conference with a call for audience members to form more community support groups like the Mandarin in the Schools Committee in Los Angeles organized by C-100 Regional Vice Chair Stewart Kwoh, President and Executive Director, Asian Pacific American Legal Center. These groups advocate increased Chinese language education at the K-12 level and are coalitions of Chinese American community leaders, academics, and politicians who build community support and work closely with educators.
The panel was moderated by Leslie Tang Schilling, Founder, Union Square Investment Company, who was the original driving force behind the Committee’s Education Initiative, which seeks to boost the teaching of Chinese language, history and culture in the schools.
Kwoh cited statistics that showed the lop-sided nature of foreign language acquisition in the United States and China, with fewer than 300,000 elementary to college students studying Chinese in the U.S. while in China 300 million Chinese students are learning English. He also noted that to achieve President Obama’s goal of sending 100,000 American students for study in China within four years, at least 1 million American students would have to be studying Chinese now.
At present, only 3% of foreign language programs in elementary schools and 4% of secondary school programs teach Mandarin, making it difficult for the United States to meet the goal of 1 million Mandarin students. See Kwoh's PowerPoint slide left.
Yalan King, Director of the Chinese American International School (CAIS) Institute, gave a few reasons why learning Chinese was important to Americans—China’s rise in the global economy; the rapid growth of Chinese language content on the internet (in a few years, more web content will be in Chinese than in English; and corporations looking globally for employees proficient in Chinese.King explained how to enhance the quality and quantity of students learning Chinese. Most critical is a sustainable supply of good teachers who understand how to teach American students. Many programs rely on “guest teachers” from China selected for their English language ability rather than second language teaching experience and who come on one- to three-year visas. One such teacher concluded that it was “easier to teach 50 in China than 15 in the U.S.” It might make more sense to develop “home-grown” teachers from native Chinese speakers in the U.S. as well as fluent non-native Mandarin speakers. Culturally appropriate instructional materials are important, with few teachers happy with the available textbooks. Another area that creates problems is a lack of state or national standards. California, for example, only recently adopted standards for foreign language, but the standards apply to all foreign languages and are not specific to Chinese.
Myriam Met and Susan Jain.
Susan Pertel Jain, Executive Director of the Confucius institute [Hanban] at UCLA, who holds a Ph.D. in Chinese opera and is fluent in Mandarin, spoke about the efforts of the Hanban to increase the numbers of students learning Chinese throughout the world. Currently there are 300 Confucius Institutes in the world with a goal of 500. In the United States, there are 60 programs with the first Confucius Institutes in Maryland, California, and Kansas and the most recent in Montana.Jain, who has benefited by being a part of the C-100 Mandarin in the Schools initiative, described how Confucius Institutes collaborate with their host campuses. For example, UCLA will offer a Mandarin credential as an option with their Masters in Pedagogy, with training done by the Confucius Institute. She said that some of the native Mandarin speakers presently in the Masters program but planning to be math or science teachers have been persuaded to add a Mandarin credential so that they can also teach Chinese.
Myriam Met, former Director of the National Foreign Language Center, shared her perspective from extensive experience in the federal government and described a number of grant programs for the teaching of Mandarin. The area of greatest growth in language learning is the immersion program, in which at least half the school day is taught in Mandarin. Not only does immersion result in the highest language performance, compared to other methods of language teaching, but it is also the least expensive. And, there is no loss of English language skills.
Met stressed that “cultural awareness is as important as language skills.” The goal of cultural knowledge is for students to be able to behave in such a way as to be acceptable in another country as a “polite outsider” and at the same time “view the world through the eyes of an insider.”