Monthly Archives: August 2008

The Learning Chinese Craze: August 27 Updates

The whole world is getting in on the Learning Chinese Craze.

From a country I have never spelled before, but which is located just to the west of China, Kyrgyzstan: 200 Kyrgyzstan students to learn Chinese in 2008

Very interesting piece on very young children in Denver who are studying in a Chinese immersion school (These schools are steadily increasing in number around the US): Their Future, In Any Language

As for the pedagogy, goals, and probably of success of these programs, I’m in the process of trying to figure those things out. I have a friend who has gotten involved in Chinese education in the United States. I’ll ask her.

There are many more, but I’ll post these two for now.

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Update: The Number of Post-Secondary Enrollees in Chinese Language Programs in the US

Pinyin News recently posted a comprehensive analysis of the number of students enrolled in Mandarin language programs here: US post-secondary enrollments in foreign languages and the position of Mandarin.

The number of students enrolled in Mandarin classes grew by 51% between 2002 and 2006…to a whopping 51,582 students.

Meanwhile, there are 822,985 students enrolled in Spanish classes.

I’d like to provide commentary, but the author of the blog article I referenced above did a much better job than I ever could. Go and read his piece.

Also see this piece on the number of students in the UK enrolled in Mandarin language degree programs.


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The Number of Chinese Learners in the USA

The number of actual Chinese learners around the world, and in the USA, is widely misreported and largely unknown. I keep reading articles that quote 30 million learners. I’m really not sure where all of these learners are, unless someone made a mistake and confused Taiwan with Thailand and so counted 6 million public school children and another 1.5 million university students.

I recently came upon an article in the Straits Times that offers some insight into the numbers for the USA.

Here’s the link: More Learning Chinese in the US

In summary:

51,000 university students are studying Chinese.

250,000 to 300,000 elementary school students are studying Chinese, but many of these are enrolled in weekend schools for children of overseas Chinese living in the States.

Hardly the vast hordes predicted in the media!

And…another repeat of my position on the learning Mandarin craze:

The craze itself is overblown, largely a media creation, and will die down at some point in the not too distant future. As for individuals who want to learn Chinese, my advice is simple: You had better have a very, very good reason to learn Chinese, or it isn’t going to happen. Chinese isn’t like Spanish, French, German, or even Japanese. It’s a very, very difficult language to learn well.

However, if you do in fact have a good reason to learn, one so good that there’s no turning back, then dig in and learn your little heart out. Uncle True will be here to help you if you need it.

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Filed under The Learning Chinese Craze

The Chinese AP Test in the United States

2007 was the first year the AP exam was offered in Chinese and Japanese.

Like much of the learning Chinese craze, things aren’t as rosy as everyone behind the craze would like them to be. Link: Results of US AP Exams…

(Thanks to http://www.pinyin.info for the excellent article. Pinyin.info is an essential site for all serious Chinese learners.)

From the article:

Only 11.1 percent of the 3,260 people taking the Mandarin exam did not indicate on their test that they “regularly speak or hear the foreign language of the examination at home, or that they have lived for one month or more in a country where the language is spoken.”

Percent of test takers who “regularly speak or hear the foreign language of the examination at home” or “have lived for one month or more in a country where the language is spoken”
chart showing that far more students taking the Mandarin AP exam are already speakers of that langauge

Thus, it’s no surprise to see that 89.4 percent of those taking the Mandarin exam identified themselves as “Asian, Asian American, or Pacific Islander.” Of all those across the entire United States who took the Mandarin exam last year, only 363 people did not identify themselves as falling within that category. This certainly does not match the hype about Mandarin as the foreign language being studied.

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The Bamboo Plant on My Desk

About two months ago, my wife returned from an afternoon of shopping with a present for me.

It was a small bamboo plant for my office.

She watered it once, then left it to me to water.

I got involved in a busy week and let the plant’s base get a bit dry.

My wife found out and told me, with a great deal of concern in her voice, that Chinese people believe that bamboo plants bring good fortune in business, and that I should never let my bamboo plant get thirsty.

She said, to be exact “Letting a bamboo plant die is a very bad thing to a Chinese person.”

I water that plant with great diligence now and, you know what? Business is good.

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Chinese Programs in American High Schools

There’s an article here about a two week summer Chinese language program for high school students in Princeton, New Jersey.

It looks like the program is quite effective in getting students excited about learning Chinese. One part of the article raised a few questions in my mind:

In the Level 2 class, the students learn how to write in Chinese.

”This is where they really transfer into literacy,” Mr. Chang said. “We do a little bit of writing, and little bit of speaking. It’s really difficult.”

Transfer into literacy? How much training have the students had prior to this course and, more importantly, how can a person transfer into Chinese literacy in two weeks? If the students were fluent in spoken Mandarin, then it might be time to learn to write, but before then, I think attempts at learning to write are premature.

In general, I’m happy to see program like this, which incorporate discussions of Chinese culture as well as language, proliferating around the world.

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