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Do US Schools Need to Teach Chinese?

Posted on January 18, 2013 by admin



In response to China’s rising economic strength and growing influence in international affairs, US schools are adding Mandarin Chinese to their foreign language offerings. But no other western nation, besides Sweden, is taking Chinese language education as seriously. According to Time reports, Swedish education minister Jan Björklund recently announced plans to add Chinese to their nationwide grade school curriculum. Björklund is of the opinion that learning Chinese is going to “be much more important from an economic perspective” than the traditionally offered European languages. Do US schools need to follow suit to stay in the game?

The Chinese have put their economy on fast track and they have become one of the world’s top producers of manufactured goods. With a Gross Domestic Product of $5.88 trillion, they are second only to the United States. However, China’s per capita GDP puts it below 99 other nations including Qatar (one of the wealthiest countries in Middle East Asia), where Arabic is spoken. And still no one is pitching for Arabic to be taught in our schools!

However, the moot point is not whether US students should be taking Chinese as their second language. The problem is that our students aren’t learning another language to increase their employability on the global front. Americans are generally happy about students graduating from high school with two years of French or Spanish under their belt. But in today’s world of changing economy, that level of language proficiency isn’t going to be enough if a person wants to step out of the United States and get a job. Meanwhile, we keep whining about how company call centers are outsourced around the globe, or how foreign workers take jobs in Silicon Valley; we do this without understanding the fact that this is only possible because other nations such as Sweden and China have prioritized teaching English from grade school.

The Swedish government is enacting reforms to ensure that their students are globally competitive instead of being experts confined within the nation’s boundaries. Given the developing nature of the Chinese economy, it is only wise for us to consider reforms to incorporate the Chinese language in our scheme of things. Sure, the United States needs more math and science graduates, but it doesn’t end there. The need of the hour is to equip our graduates with skills that are relevant to the 21st century. If we don’t realize the need to acquire basic skills in prominent foreign languages such as Chinese, creating world-class employable graduates in the future will become all the more difficult.

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