On China: Mandarin Language in Georgia Public Schools
Last year, a serious debate in public elementary education about Mandarin language instruction divided the Bibb County school district. The following statement was (and is) my position on second language acquisition and in particular, the instruction of Chinese language in our public schools. While the articles and links are a bit dated, the importance of understanding China and learning critical languages remain central in international education.
Originally posted on 4 March 2013
I was recently featured on Georgia Public Broadcasting's (GPB) program, Primetime Lawmakers (3/4/13), to discuss why Chinese language is an important part preparing our children for the 21st century world. In addition, my wife, Marina, and I were featured on NPR Weekend Edition last fall about the controversy of Mandarin language instruction.
Here is a summary of my position. Links to the t.v. and radio programs can be found below.
1. Am I against the Bibb Co. Mandarin Program? No, I am 100% in support of Mandarin instruction. In fact, I am thrilled that our children are learning a third language. My wife and I are also volunteering to provide on-going cultural and ESL support to the visiting Chinese teachers in the Confucius Institute. We as parents, spouses, academics, and community members deeply care about global study, language development, and intercultural engagement -- including China.
2. Do I agree that Mandarin is a 'critical language' of the 21st century? Yes. 1 in 4 people on the planet is Chinese. Global population growth, the new economic terrain of globalization, and a rapidly changing international division of labor all demonstrate why more Americans need a better cultural orientation and the ability to interface with Asia (this would also include Korea -- which has a major cultural and economic presence (e.g., Kia) in Georgia's and Japan (e.g., YKK in Macon)). Americans are woefully unilingual and have been since the end of World War II, when the reconstruction of the European and Japanese economies -- and hence the global economy -- centered English as the 'lingua franca' of international business.
3. Do I think that Spanish is also a 'critical' language within the USA? Si. The changing American demography reflects that Hispanics constitute the fastest and largest growing minority. Why would either presidential candidate attempt to sway votes through Spanish speaking media if this were not the case? At a much more local level, Spanish is also a 'critical language' as immigrants become an integral part of our communities and economies. They are not simply a reflection of our past but also represent our present and future conditions. This is why Marina is quoted in the NPR report as saying "in an ideal world, we would have a choice." The present state of the economy does not, unfortunately, present funding options to offer more languages to our children. My cousin's son studies in a Spanish immersion school in Lexington, KY and I've observed first-hand how important this language is, too.
4. Will these Mandarin classes make my children fluent in Chinese? The answer is, 'who knows?' I don't expect that they will be fluent in Mandarin by the time they enter middle school but I am convinced that any language study opens news doors of cultural curiosity and sensitivity. I do expect that my kids will be communicative at a functional and basic level. Real language fluency will need a life-long commitment of practice, practice, practice. These Chinese courses are important but parents and their children will need to make the personal commitment to the life-long pursuit of language in order for them to be professionally fluent. I've been speaking Brazilian Portuguese for 16+ years and still learn more and more every day. I also lose my language ability if I don't practice it. But being focused on fluency at such an early age is a mistake. These Chinese classes expose our students to a world beyond their immediate horizons. Education is as much about imaging the 'other' as it is learning.
I do think that public education must invest in language development at ages earlier than high school. Language acquisition not only is more effective at this young phase of life but the teaching of Chinese and other languages open new doors of discovery and ultimately, curiosity. I cannot think of a better time when the youth in Bibb County and elsewhere need to be curious about the world beyond Macon and the classroom. Our elementary students represent one of the first generations to be reared in the global age. It is our responsibility to give them the tools, experiences, and encouragement to take ownership of globalization. They are our social capital. Our future, as well as their's, depend on it.
Thank you, 谢谢, Gracias, & Obrigado (and not listed in order of importance).
4 March 2013
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