Chinese as a Second Language

Back when I was in college, eons ago, students began taking Japanese language courses in droves. Japan was perceived as an economic threat at the time and we Americans needed to churn out a workforce that could speak the language.

Flash forward to today: The new perceived threat is China, and it is no surprise to read this article about the growing popularity of Chinese as a second language.

According to the article, “a 2004 College Board survey found that 2,400 high schools — an incredibly high number — would be interested in offering the Advanced Placement (AP) courses in Chinese language and culture when the courses become available in 2006.”

While taking a few Chinese AP courses isn’t going to turn anyone into a fluent Chinese speaker, it certainly can’t hurt. I also think it’s important for students to dive into a non-Romance language at least once in their lives. Learning to read not just a different language but a different script is enormously challenging. And it makes the culture behind the language appear a tad bit less “foreign” and perhaps a bit less of a threat.

I was surprised to read this statistic from the article…

    “Millions of Chinese are learning English, but only 24,000 Americans are learning Chinese,” said Andrew Corcoran of the San Francisco-based Chinese American International School, the oldest Mandarin “immersion” program in the country.

As English becomes the world’s second language, native-English speakers have become spoiled. We can travel the world and get by fairly well using English. But, in the end, we are just tourists.

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Author: John Yunker

John co-founded Byte Level Research in 2000 and is author of The Web Globalization Report Card. He also co-founder of Ashland Creek Press.