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.