US state of Utah aims to better connect with China via language

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Utah is leading other American states in carrying out the English and Chinese dual language immersion program, and hopes to share its experience with other states to benefit more who are interested in Chinese language.

Howard Stephenson, former member of the Utah State Senate, told reporters on the sidelines of a series of events celebrating the 150th anniversary of the completion of the first U.S. transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869, to which thousands of Chinese railroad workers made great contribution.

"We could not complete the transcontinental railroad without the accomplishment of the Chinese workers. Similarly, Utah could not be No. 1 American state in teaching Chinese without many qualified Chinese language teachers through the Chinese-government sponsored Confucius Institute program," Stephenson said.

According to an online website introduction, dual language immersion programs have been conducted in Utah's elementary school education. Instruction is divided between two high quality and creative classrooms: one English and one Chinese.

Students enjoy the advantage of two caring and qualified teachers, with one using half of the instruction day to teach the state-required core curriculum in English while the other teaching other portions of the curriculum in Chinese.

"You'll be delighted how quickly your child becomes a comfortable and competent Chinese speaker," Stephenson said.

Out of the 50 American states, Utah has one percent of the nation's population, but has 25 percent of Chinese dual language immersion students across the country, according to Stephenson.

Utah hopes to introduce its experience to other states, he said, adding the state of Rhode Island and the state of Delaware have adopted the Utah model in teaching Chinese.

In the United States, people have been paying attention to teaching foreign languages like German, French, Spanish and Italian. "As the Chinese economy is growing very fast, we believe that we should have a strong focus on Mandarin," he said.

Stephenson said Utah has five amazing national parks, but have not accommodated those Chinese visitors in their language.

"I have been working with the superintendents of the five national parks, so our dual language immersion students can guide in the visitor centers and on the buses in Mandarin during summer time," he said.

On the other hand, the process will enable U.S. students to expand their vocabulary and improve their language skills, he added. 

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