March 27, 2007
Written by C.N.
It should be no surprise by now that Chinese language classes are becoming increasingly popular among students in the U.S. After all, China is emerging as a global superpower and American parents are always looking for something that will give their children an advantage in the global workforce. But as the Christian Science Monitor reports, the problem is that there’s a shortage of Chinese language teachers:
Enrollment has soared, going from 5,000 primary and secondary school students in 2000 to estimates as high as 50,000 today, according to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. When the College Board surveyed schools in 2004 about their interest in a Chinese advanced-placement test, 2,400 schools expressed interest – but many also said they couldn’t find a teacher to start a program. . . .
To seed Chinese programs here, school districts are using guest-worker visas to bring over teachers from China and Taiwan. Another 34 schools this January received teachers from China through a new program set up by the College Board and Hanban, a Chinese government organization. Participating schools pay about $3,500 and agree to provide housing and local transportation to the teacher for two years, with the option to extend the contract for one more year. By 2009, the program hopes to bring as many as 250 teachers to the US. . . .
Several factors keep the Chinese-American community from playing a bigger role in bridging the cultural gap. . . . Many, especially in the San Francisco area, come from families who either speak Cantonese, an entirely different Chinese dialect, or an imperfect version of Mandarin. Meanwhile, more recent immigrants have high aspirations that lead them to dissuade their children from teaching . . . as incomes from private- sector jobs eclipsed teacher pay.
Who would have guessed that people fluent in Chinese are in big demand now? Until recently and still true in many ways today, people speaking Chinese were frowned upon, marginalized, or ridiculed. In fact a recent hate crime, where a Filipino high school student was mistaken for Chinese and beat up on a bus while the bus driver did nothing to intervene, shows the extent to which hostility still exists against the Chinese in the U.S.
While I generally applaud the fact that so many Americans are now apparently eager to learn Chinese, I wonder how long this will last. In other words, how long will it take for China’s economic, political, or perhaps military competition with the U.S. lead to increased tensions between the two countries — tensions that would inevitably spill over onto Chinese Americans?
My point is, learning the Chinese language is one thing — learning and respecting Chinese culture and society is something else. Americans seem eager to do the former — are they also willing to also do the latter?
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Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "Shortage of Chinese Language Teachers" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/2007/03/shortage-of-chinese-language-teachers/> ().
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