Monthly Archives: July 2008

Chinese Language Education in America: The Craze Continues

I continue to find reports from local newspapers in municipalities all over the United States, writing about the local Chinese (and sometimes Arabic, Russian, and Japanese) language programs the local schools are piloting.

Here’s a recent article from Frederick, MD: A New Way of Speaking Things

A 3 week program for middle schoolers, taught by native Chinese speakers, involving some cultural instruction in addition to a bit of language instruction. From the article:

The first summer classes in Frederick County were given in 2005 during the Maryland Summer Center, with the help of a Maryland Department of Education grant.

Frederick County was the first to offer world languages, Murphy said.

This year’s program was open to students of all levels, extended to three weeks and expanded to include space for five local native Chinese speakers who may eventually become language teachers.

The teaching participants were paid $25 per hour and worked with Frederick County world language resource teachers, who helped them organize class plans and also provided feedback.

“I’m hoping to show people in Frederick County that Chinese is a viable language,” Murphy said.

I applaud efforts like this. And with that applause, I add my observation that there is still a strong need for expertise in Chinese language instruction and cross-cultural communications for many of these programs. Contrary to popular belief, there are NOT hordes of qualified Chinese teachers, administrators of Chinese language programs, and curriculum developers for such roaming the school districts of the United States.

These are early efforts, and are increasing over time. The district the article writes about seems to have its act together. I’ll be watching with interest as Chinese language instruction becomes more expert, professional, and effective in the United States.

Heck, the Oracle (my wife) and I would be happy to pitch in and help with a local Chinese language program in the States sometime down the road.

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Filed under Chinese Language Instruction, Culture, Language, The Learning Chinese Craze

Culture Shock: American Managers in China

I found this well-written, concise article in the Salt Lake Tribune that highlights some of the cultural adaptation problems American managers who work in China encounter.

From the article:

The issue…is that the Chinese culture is so different from what Americans have experienced in life and in the workplace.

When people ask me if there are major cultural differences between Greater China and the United States, I usually reply with this: “They are two entirely different worlds. Humans need to eat, sleep, and work, but the similarities end there.” Managers heading for China would do well do keep a very open mind, and to avoid any major policy decisions until they get the lay of the land. They should also consider hiring a cross-cultural communications trainer with experience in Greater China to guide them through the mine fields.

This article is full of other gems that provide a brief overview of some of the major cultural differences between China and the West. I’d love to go through them but, as usual, I’m in the middle of 18 projects.

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Filed under Business, China, Culture, Culture Shock, Taiwan

Culture Shock For Chinese Tourists And Taiwanese Hosts

I’ll borrow the title of the article for this post.

Basically, mainland Chinese tourists have begun to visit Taiwan, and are expected to do so in greater numbers in the months and years to come. Predictably, there are some biases and prejudices on both sides and like most biases and prejudices, they are largely without logical foundation.

The article doesn’t go into any kind of depth on the political, cultural, and socio-economic differences between the Chinese-speaking peoples living on either side of the Taiwan Strait, but it makes for a light, fun read.

It will be fascinating to see how things play out. I’ll be watching with interest.

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Filed under China, Culture Shock, Taiwan

Chinese Learning Programs in American Schools

I’d like to write a long research paper on this topic, but many duties call. The article at this link is one of many I get in my Google New Alert on Learning Chinese.

The article notes that as students get older, they tend to have less and less interest in learning Chinese. From the article:

But based on a questionnaire, not all students say they enjoy learning Chinese. Responding to the statement, “I like learning Chinese,” 78 percent of first- and second-graders agreed, but only 43 percent of fifth-graders agreed. Three-quarters of second-graders said learning Chinese is fun, but only 39 percent of fifth-graders agreed. While about three-quarters of first-, second- and third-graders said they want to learn more Chinese words, just 37 percent of fifth-graders said they want to.

A mere 9 percent of fifth graders said they want to go on studying Chinese in middle and high school.

Might the drop off in interest be explained by the greater maturity of the older students, who realize that from a purely practical point of view, Chinese isn’t the best language for them to learn in a classroom in the United States? Sure, there are other possible causative factors for the drop off in interest (e.g. teaching problems, growing interest in things like computer games, growing interest in sports, etc.), but I think that younger kiddies are less equipped to evaluate the usefulness of what they are learning in the classroom. That is, they don’t realize that learning fluent or even passable Mandarin in a classroom in the U.S. is mainly a pipe dream.

The solution, in my opinion, is to teach Chinese to older students (high school or older) who really want to learn it, but to require that they spend a summer or half a year abroad in China or Taiwan after a year of classroom study. And they’ll have to do an overseas tour more than once to get fluent.

In other words, studying abroad is the only way for them to attain anything approaching fluency.

Here’s another noteworthy tidbit from the piece:

Kelley said the district was faced with the choice of teaching Chinese or no language at all. The federal government considers Chinese a critical needs language and provides grants for its instruction. Other languages on the list include Korean, Arabic and Farsi.

Now where was the federal funding for Chinese learning when I was in public school?

Source: “Cape school district’s Chinese program gets mixed reviews,” Cape Gazette, by Leah Hoenen.

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Filed under Language, The Learning Chinese Craze

Learning Chinese in Australia

Kevin Rudd, the PM of Australia, a Chinese speaker himself, recently attended a conference of the Chinese Language Teachers ‘ Federation of Australia.

He spoke about the importance of Australians learning Asian languages.

Link: Australian PM praises work of Chinese language teachers

Three Comments:

1. It is incredibly cool that the PM of Australia can speak a bit of Mandarin. I’ve heard his welcome to China’s President Hu, delivered in Mandarin, and while I can’t give him high marks for pronunciation and diction, I give him great credit for being willing to open his mouth and speak Mandarin to China’s President.

2. There are apparently over 150 Chinese teachers in Australia. For a country with Australia’s population, that’s a fair number. I expect to see it grow over time. Despite my doubts about the effectiveness of many Chinese teaching programs in the English-speaking world, I applaud efforts to increase understanding of Chinese language and culture.

3. This has nothing to do with speaking or learning Chinese, but I freaking love Australia. Incredible place.

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Filed under Greater Asia, Language, The Learning Chinese Craze