There is an interesting article in Newsweek. The title is “America’s Chinese Problem – The reports of progress are wrong“.

This article points out that although Chinese schools or schools with Chinese programs are popping up in America, suggesting that Americans realize the importance of learning Chinese and understanding China, the number is fairly small. “According to the Center for Applied Linguistics, in 2008 only 4 percent of middle and high schools that offer foreign-language instruction included Mandarin. That’s up from 1 percent in 1997.” The same study also reveals that “13 percent of schools still offer Latin and a full 10-fold more schools offer French than Mandarin.”

According to the article, America’s lack of support for language instruction in the classroom is one key factor. Lack of funding lead to cutbacks on language courses such as German, French and Russian. Mandarin Chinese is of no exception especially given the fact that acquiring teachers and materials are harder and more expensive than, say, Spanish.

Convincing parents to send their kids to learn Chinese is another reason. “According to a report this September by Wakefield Research, twice as many parents believe their kids should speak Spanish than Chinese.”

Also, according to the article, in the USA, there is no culture of teaching foreign languages to primary school students. “Only 15 percent of elementary schools and 58 percent of middle schools offer any foreign languages, according to the Center for Applied Linguistics.”

“The Chinese government estimates that some 40 million foreigners are studying Mandarin, but according to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, only 50,000 of them are in the United States.” This comparison is quite surprising, isn’t it?

The article compares learning Spanish and Chinese, which I find quite interesting. It points out that actually

Mandarin is easier than Spanish in many ways: there is no need to conjugate verbs, match gender or number, nor worry about tenses. What is much tougher, however, is the sheer number of characters you have to memorize and the mastery of tones (depending on the inflection, the word ji could mean chicken or to remember).

Yes, I fully agree on it. I also agree on what the author mentions

Since memorization, particularly when it comes to language acquisition, is a skill that gradually diminishes with age, it’s all the more important for kids to pick up Mandarin from a young age.

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