Chinese as the next world language

China is trying to ensure that Chinese truly becomes the next world language by sending instructors from China to teach Chinese in US schools.  The state of Indiana has become one of the hot spots for this program as the following article in The Herald Bulletin (May 27, 2010) by Maureen Hayden indicates:

With the arrival in Indiana this week of the largest delegation of Chinese automotive executives ever to visit the U.S., attention has been focused on the potential for Chinese investment in the state’s auto-parts industry.

But as a growing number of school teachers already know, China has been spending money in Indiana for the last four years, investing in a program to make Chinese the next world language.

In Hoosier schools large and small, Mandarin Chinese is being taught by Chinese school teachers sent here on a multi-year program designed to make their native tongue the foreign language of choice.

The numbers are still small, but an estimated 45 public and private schools in Indiana now offer Chinese language instruction as a credited course. The schools range from the prestigious private International School of Indiana in Indianapolis — which begins Chinese language instruction in kindergarten — to Jennings County High School in rural southeastern Indiana.

“There’s been a heightened interest and awareness of the need for global language programs that start as early as possible,” said Caterina Blitzer, vice president for development at the International School of Indiana and the former director of international education at the Indiana Department of Education.

That interest is on a national level as well. According to the College Board, administrators of the college admissions test, the number of high school students taking the Advanced Placement test in Chinese has grown so quickly that it has become the third-most tested A.P. language, behind French and Spanish.

Many of the Chinese-language teachers in Indiana schools are Chinese educators who have arrived here courtesy of a joint program between the College Board and Hanban, a government-funded organization affiliated with the Chinese Education Ministry.

Since 2006, the Chinese government has subsidized more than 325 “guest teachers” to work in U.S. schools to help launch Chinese language programs. The teachers can stay and teach for three years, and then can re-apply to stay for another three years.

But it’s not just the Chinese government investing in the spread of the language. The U.S. State Department also funds a smaller program, called Teachers of Critical Languages, that recruits teachers from China and the Middle East to spend a year in American schools teaching Mandarin Chinese and Arabic. The program grew out of a U.S. Defense Department initiative during the Bush administration that found there was a shortage of American students who were fluent in languages deemed of “national security” interest.

An increasing source of Chinese language teachers in Indiana are Chinese immigrants or Chinese-Americans who are fluent in the language, but have pursued other careers. They’re now being recruited into education, said Adriana Melnyk-Brandt, the director of professional development at IUPUI’s School of Education. IUPUI is one of three universities in Indiana that certifies teachers of Chinese. Those universities are assisted by the Confucius Institute, also funded by the Chinese government, to promote the teaching of Chinese language and culture in the U.S.

The combined effort has done more than just introduce the Chinese language to Hoosier schoolchildren, said Melnyk-Brandt. “Students of a foreign language see a world beyond their backyard,” she said. “And many times they see the world in their own backyard in a different way.”

Maureen Hayden is statehouse bureau chief for CNHI’s Indiana newspapers. She can be reached at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com.

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