By Anthony Tran, Asia World Media
The U.S. Defense Language Institute ranks Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Arabic language, as the “most difficult” to learn. The language is tonal, and fluency requires mastering thousands of characters. Mandarin competence takes 2,200 class hours, with half of that time spent in a country where it’s spoken, according to the U.S. State Department’s Foreign Service Institute, whereas Spanish can be learned in 600 to 750 class hours. Notables that have impressed with their Mandarin language prowess include Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook founder), Kevin Rudd (former Prime Minister of Australia), and Mira Sorvino (Golden Globe winner).
More language students, from different backgrounds and various industries, are saying “huan ying” or “welcome” to mastering the Chinese dialect, whether it is for personal reasons or business opportunities.
The rise of Mandarin is driven by many factors, such as:
– China’s role as a world economic powerhouse
– China is the world’s most populous country, currently 1.381 billion. Over one fifth of the planet speaks Chinese
– China is one of the largest trading partners of the United States
– Many U.S. companies do business in China and have long-term investments in China. Employers in the U.S. and around the world need people to speak Mandarin to conduct business. This is not a trend that is going to be changing any time soon
– The study of the Chinese language not only opens the way to one of the richest and oldest culture, over 5000 years old; but students are also able to enter important fields such as writing novels, making movies, Chinese politics, economy, history, or archaeology, etc…
According to Asia Society, “American schools, which in the past have typically limited their foreign language offerings to Spanish, French, and German, are beginning to show greater interest in less commonly taught languages that are of growing significance. One of the most important is Mandarin Chinese.”
There is not a precise way to measure the demands for Chinese language teachers over the next five to ten years, but using historical experience with other languages, we can say that if Chinese were to become as popular as German, we would need two thousand and eight hundred (2,800) teachers. If it were to become as popular as French, we would need ten thousand (10,000) teachers.
These facts are apparent by the increasing enrollments of students and the lack of competent Chinese-Mandarin speaking teachers in Texas. Once a program in world languages, such as Chinese are established, “the single most important factor in whether that language is learned or not, is the competence and skill of the teacher.”
Left to right: Xiaoyan Wang (District Chinese Program Coordinator at ILT), Gary Manns (Director of International Students of ILT), Dr. Rebecca Good (Superintendent/CEO at Legacy Preparatory Charter Academy). Photo by Asia World Media
To further explore this issue, Anthony Tran with Asia World Media conducted an interview with Dr. Rebecca Good, Superintendent/CEO of Legacy Preparatory Charter Academy regarding the plight of finding highly skilled Mandarin Chinese teachers. Legacy Preparatory Charter Academy (LPCA) is a tuition free public school, where enrollment is open to all, with campuses in Plano and Mesquite, where Chinese is taught to incoming 5th graders. Dr. Good mentioned that while the demand for Mandarin Chinese teachers is markedly up, the dilemma that LPCA and other schools face is that there are not enough Chinese-Mandarin proficient teachers to go around. For instance, it took LPCA almost two months to find one Chinese-Mandarin speaking teacher.
The experience is similar for Xiaoyan Wang, District Chinese Program Coordinator with the International Leadership of Texas (ILT). ILT is one of the largest public schools in Texas, hosting guest teachers from China. According to Wang, the most efficient ways to find qualified Chinese-Mandarin teachers is by working with the College Board Chinese Guest Teacher Program.
The Chinese Guest Teacher Program is designed to help U.S. schools develop Chinese language and culture study programs, and to promote international exchange between the United States and China. Made possible through collaboration between the College Board and Hanban/Confucius Institute Headquarters (Hanban), the program has grown to be the largest Chinese visiting teacher program in the United States. Each year, the program serves hundreds of K–12 schools and districts nationwide and reaches tens of thousands of U.S. students.
“Host a Chinese Guest Teacher Program” provides an experienced language teacher from China to fill full-time Chinese language instruction positions in a host school or district, for a period of one to three years. The guest teachers typically have at least three years of teaching experience, and go through a rigorous selection and training process before arriving at the host schools. Participating institutions are responsible for providing a partial salary to the guest teacher, and the remainder is subsidized by a stipend from Hanban.
“Usually, the teachers from the program have solid academic background. You don’t have to worry what type of Chinese language the teachers are speaking. Are they speaking fluent Chinese or do they know enough about the language? These teachers are native speakers and many of them are English teachers in China, so they understand the importance of a secondary language,” said Wang.
Wang continued to address the Chinese teacher shortage by sharing that “beside the College Board and the Hanban/Confucius Institute Headquarters guest teacher program; there is another avenue to finding Chinese teachers; through The Teachers of Critical Languages Program (TCLP).“
The Teachers of Critical Languages Program (TCLP) brings teachers from China and Egypt to eligible U.S. elementary and secondary schools to teach Chinese and Arabic for an academic year. American students benefit from having native Chinese and Arabic speakers in the classroom and from a broadened foreign language curriculum.
While there are many different routes to finding and to hiring Chinese-Mandarin teachers, either through working guest teachers, hosting job fairs, personally interviewing and recruiting Chinese teachers on a national level, from state to state, or online interviews, like Skype and recruiting websites, schools still find it a challenge to filling all the vacancies, at their own campuses.
The idea that children should learn Chinese has firmly taken hold in the United States. There are nearly 50,000 students now studying Mandarin in elementary and secondary schools in the U.S, according to published figures. In order to meet the demands inherent in expanding and sustaining high-quality Chinese language and cultural programs in American schools; we need to build a system of recruiting, training, certifying, and supporting more qualified teachers.
Are you a qualified Chinese-Mandarin speaking teacher seeking a position in the North Texas public school system? Contact Dr. Rebecca Good, Superintendent/CEO of Legacy Preparatory Charter Academy at firstname.lastname@example.org
** Serious inquiries only