The National Chinese Language Conference will meet in Washington DC thursday, bringing together more than 800 educators, policymakers and language advocates for a three-day meeting to discuss key issues in language instruction and research in a field that is currently experiencing dynamic growth.
A teacher is teaching Chinese in a class. There has been tremendous growth and interest in learning Chinese among schools and students in the United States in recent years. [www.cqnews.com.cn]
"There has been tremendous growth and interest in learning Chinese among schools and students in recent years," said Selena Cantor, the director of the Chinese Language and Culture Initiative program at College Board, which is co-sponsoring the event with the Asia Society.
Much of the push for more Chinese language courses has come from the students and their families, said Chris Livaccari, the associate director of education and Chinese language initiatives for the Asia Society.
"The primary driver is local communities, parents, US universities, and businesses deciding that the US-China relationship is going to be critical to the future," he said. "Like most things, it's very much driven by economics, and looking at where the future of business is going to be."
St. Hilda's School in New York now offers Mandarin classes in nursery school, and NYU's Developing Chinese Language Teachers program has seen applications rise in the three years since its inception, said coordinator Robin Harvey. She believes that people are recognizing the need to prepare for China's growth.
"I think it's a very practical interest," she said. "Nowadays with the advent of the Internet and increased business and cultural opportunities, China is rapidly becoming less foreign to us."
Despite a drastic reduction in government funding for language study programs and an overall drop in schools offering language courses, Chinese language study has soared in popularity since 1997, according to a survey released by the Center for Applied Linguistics.
Nancy Rhodes, who oversaw the survey released by the Center for Applied Linguistics, said: "The US tends to go up and down with language interest based on what's going on internationally."
Rhodes believes that students who study languages at a young age benefit not only from the ability to understand other cultures, but also on a cognitive level. She pointed to studies that have shown better problem-solving skills and increased creativity among students studying a second language.
While much of the interest has been at the K-12 level, colleges also report more students and more class sections to accommodate them, said Jeff Wang, assistant director for Chinese language initiatives at the Asia Society.
The increased interest is due to the rising importance of China both economically and culturally and has been facilitated by China's various outreach programs, organized by the country's Han Ban, or Office of the Chinese Language Council International.
In addition to its work with the Confucius Institutes, Han Ban is also working with the College Board and the Asia Society to offer guest teaching programs for visiting Chinese teachers, visits to China for American educators, and summer programs for teachers specializing in AP-level Chinese history courses.
This year's Chinese National Language Conference will bring educators from the Confucius Classrooms program and their partner schools in China together for the first time, along with educators and administrators from other programs all over the US.
The conference will feature more than 50 expert-led sessions on a wide range of topics, including the use of technology in the classroom, the future of the field, and promoting global awareness.
"Participants in the conference can expect to walk away with greater knowledge of best practices, excellent resources and contacts to support their programs, inspiration about the importance of their work, and understanding of their work to national policy and agenda," Cantor said.
Special guests will include Under Secretary Martha Kanter of the US Department of Education, US Representative Rush Holt, James Fallows of The Atlantic Monthly, and author Gish Jen.
An American boy is learning Chinese. There has been tremendous growth and interest in learning Chinese among schools and students in the United States in recent years. [www.cqnews.com.cn]
(China Daily April 23, 2010)