Foreign language classes are fading in public schools according to a government-financed study discussed in the New York Times recently. The demand is so high, that the Chinese government is sending teachers from China to schools and paying part of their salaries. The demand for Chinese is also indicated in the number of students taking the Advanced Placement test in Chinese, becoming third most popular foreign language test behind Spanish and French.

The Chinese language movement

China is emerging as a leader in business and the world’s biggest holder of foreign exchange reserves: 1.2 trillion US dollars in 2007 and climbing in subsequent years. In this global economy, people are moving forward to develop business relationships with the world’s fastest growing nation. Currently over 30 million people are studying Chinese in universities, colleges or using private online courses.

The United States government is investing large sums of money and passing bills to encourage school districts to begin teaching Chinese and encourage students to learn the Chinese language in school across America. In a recent article, The Future of Foreign Relations, the movement to teach Chinese in schools across the country is discussed. Virginia Rivera, principal of McCormick Elementary School in Chicago spoke about her school’s program:

Chicago Public Schools started a Chinese program seven years ago, and Rivera believes it is making her 99 percent Latino student body more competitive. “This is one of the three top languages in the world—why wouldn’t you teach it? Think about the possibilities later on. This is a way for some of my kids to get into the top high schools in Chicago,” she says.

Rivera also believes that starting in elementary school is key. “They’re just like little sponges at this age. We’ve had delegations in from China and local politicians who are amazed at the kids’ pronunciation and how they can communicate.”

The McCormick program started out small and grew year by year. “We started the program with just the kindergarten and added another class each year,” says Rivera. Students start out with about 20 minutes a day and increase in time as they go through the grades. In kindergarten they learn through singing and finger play with a little bit of writing. By fifth grade, they’re getting instruction three days a week—both writing and conversation. And beyond the skills themselves, says Rivera, “they understand the positive side of being multilingual.”

A shortage of teachers

The Chinese government is pushing language instruction for K-12 students in the United States by inviting 400 school leaders to China this year alone. According to the College Board, 24,000 children in this country are studying Chinese at present. Boston Public Schools and New Jersey state officials are addressing the need for education in this concentration by providing teacher-to-teacher conferences and discussing various ways to streamline certification. As the demand grows, there will be a need for native speakers and nonnative speakers. This trend opens the door for future educators to obtain primary and secondary education degrees to lay the foundation for teaching Chinese in the future.

If learning Chinese interests you, where do you begin?

If learning and teaching Chinese interests you, you have the opportunity to get in on the ground floor and become one of the few certified teachers in Chinese. The first step, however, is to obtain a Bachelor’s degree in primary or secondary education. Many online universities offer concentrations in Education. Once you have obtained your degree in Education, you can move on to study Chinese specifically and become a certified Asian teacher. Or if you already speak Chinese, you can become certified through various programs offered through the Asia Society.

If teaching doesn’t interest you, you can head down the business route and learn Chinese, positioning yourself in the global marketplace and gain employment in this country or overseas in areas like banking, trade, and financial services.

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