Video: Building Sustainable, Long-Lasting Chinese Language Programs for US Schools

The video above explores how public schools in New York City are teaching Chinese by visiting elementary school classes at Fresh Meadows School and middle and highschool classes at East-West School of International Studies.

On December 17, 2012, U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke came to Asia Society to talk about the value of bilateral relations and education to a group of students participating in Asia Society’s International Studies Schools and Confucius Classrooms networks throughout New York City. During his talk, he advised the students to learn Chinese, saying “if you can speak Chinese or Spanish, you are practically guaranteed a job in your chosen field.”

Locke’s advice echoes the increasing sentiment that learning a foreign language in the 21st century is a vital skill not only to communicate across cultures effectively, but also to become equipped for the job market in a more interconnected world. Attitudes toward bilingualism have changed due to global competition, and China, for one, has been in the spotlight.

As China continues to develop as a growing economy and rising political power, Americans recognize the importance of understanding, communicating, and interacting with the country. As a result, over the last five to ten years, there have been “263 Chinese language programs in elementary and secondary schools in 2004 and 779 such programs in 2008, a more than 200 percent increase” in Chinese language programs across the board, according to the Asia Society report Meeting the Challenge: Preparing Chinese Language Teachers for American Schools (April 2010).

In recent years, a number of these Chinese language programs are expanding in places where people might not expect there to be Chinese language programs, including “Ohio and Illinois in the Midwest, Texas and Georgia in the South, and Colorado and Utah in the Rocky Mountain West,” according to a New York Times article.

From an educational standpoint, Chris Livaccari, Director of Education and Chinese Languages at Asia Society, states learning Chinese can “enhance students’ cognitive skills — their reasoning skills, their ability to negotiate cultural or linguistic differences, their ability to recognize patterns and their ability to solve problems, in a way that education without a language other than English simply doesn’t do.”

While Chinese-language programs are becoming more prevalent, one of the pressing challenges is sustaining these programs. At the East-West School of International Studies in Flushing, New York, the school administration struggled to find qualified, licensed Japanese, Korean, or Chinese teachers as they expanded. Moreover, once teachers are hired, limited resources and finding authentic material for the appropriate curriculum that meet local district and state standards can be challening, as is the case for the Fresh Meadow School.

For the future, Livaccari says, these Chinese language programs aim to have a positive impact on the state and future of U.S.-China relations “by having American and Chinese youth engaging with each other, learning more about each other’s language and culture from an early age.”

About the Author

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Anne Zhou is a contributor to Asia Blog. A Media Studies and Chinese major at Hunter College, she is a native New Yorker. Anne enjoys making documentaries, traveling, and eating.