xi's moments

Mandarin on the up in down time

China Daily | Updated: 2018-06-06 09:27

NEW YORK - Final exams are approaching for school students in the United States, as is the summer holiday, when many will spend the time at camps or doing volunteer jobs.

And an increasing number will be learning Mandarin.

Flipping through local newspapers printed in Chinese, you will see a full range of advertisements of summer activities aimed at teenagers with a focus on Mandarin learning.

Linguistic courses are common, while the spectrum has steadily expanded to speaking and writing contests and trips to China to meet with new friends.

The China Press, a Chinese-language newspaper, is now promoting the edition of its seventh competition for children from 8 to 16 years old to test their Mandarin skills, with trophies and cash up for grabs as well as opportunities to gain exposure in the paper's multimedia publications.

There are now approximately 5 million Chinese-Americans in the US, with many of them born in the country. Learning Mandarin helps them communicate with members of their families and improves their career prospects.

But people from other ethnic groups are also joining in, with the intention of cashing in on the academic and business opportunities that have been arising out of China's economic and cultural empowerment.

"The enthusiasm just can't be contained. Even my white schoolmates are looking for classes taught in Mandarin," said Jack, a 9th grader in New York.

The China Press held its sixth contest in January, drawing thousands of participants from New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Washington, Chicago, North Carolina and South Carolina. Four hundred of them qualified for the semifinals.

Candidates must be born in the US or have been in the country for over five years. In the fifth edition held in June last year, over 5,000 children submitted their work and 20 made the final round to vie for the top prizes.

Linguistic courses are regularly offered in conjunction with tutor sessions for SHSAT and SAT, which are the thresholds for teenagers to get admitted to the eight Specialized High Schools in New York and colleges or universities in the US.

Huanyu is a Mandarin school based in Flushing, Queens, an area of New York popular with Chinese-Americans. It is one of the frontrunners in promoting such courses. Classes on its campus for PK-9 students teach spelling, sentence construction and how to read and write in Chinese.

Course and camps

Sunshine Academy, based in Fresh Meadow Lane, specializes in summer camps. It splits the day with English and math courses in the morning and Chinese and extracurricular lessons in the afternoon. Three meals are provided each day and one field trip is available every two weeks.

"They are popular, but cost a lot. I hope they turn out to be wise investment," Jack said.

The not-for-profit US-China Strong Foundation said that up to mid-2017, about 400,000 US students learned Mandarin before they entered college, doubling the number in 2015.

Former US president Barack Obama set a target to increase the number of Mandarin learners in US kindergartens, primary, middle and high schools to 1 million before 2020, in order to enhance US kids' global competitivity.

There are still two and a half years to go to reach the 1 million goal. The mushrooming Mandarin contests, summer courses and camps in Flushing and other parts of New York are expected to contribute to the target, either as cultural missions or out of commercial drive.


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