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Some US Students Learn Mandarin With China's Help

The Confucius Classroom program is offered in more than 50 American schools and universities, and almost 40 countries worldwide. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is the VOA Special English Education Report.

Some schools in the United States and other countries offer Chinese language classes with government support from China.


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Saint Mary's School is a private college preparatory school in Medford, Oregon, in the Pacific Northwest.

CARLY IRVINE: "Wo jiao Carly."

Carly Irvine is in her fourth year of learning Mandarin.

CARLY IRVINE: "Since China and America are working so closely and our relationship is growing more and more, I think it will be very important in the future to know Chinese."

Saint Mary's also teaches Spanish, German and Latin. It added Mandarin in two thousand five. Two years ago, it became the first school in the country to join the Confucius Classroom program.

The program pays about half the costs of a teacher sent to a school in the United States. China's Education Ministry also provides books and other materials.

Saint Mary's principal, Frank Phillips, says knowing Chinese will help students in a world where China is quickly gaining economic power. But he admits to concerns in his local community.

FRANK PHILLIPS: "The question I always get is, 'Is this a gigantic propaganda move, is this an evil Communist plot on the part of China?' That's the number one kind of lingering Cold War suspicion about this program. From what I can detect, having been involved in it for two years, I see none of that."

In fact, the program has won the support of his local representative in the state legislature. Dennis Richardson says he has concerns about human rights in China. But he is among several lawmakers who have been pushing for more Chinese language education in public schools in Oregon.

DENNIS RICHARDSON: "We can do more good setting an example and being friends and business associates than we can by ostracizing them."

Zheng Ling, a teacher at Saint Mary's, came from China in two thousand eight.

ZHENG LING: "People do not know much about China, especially the latest development. So I think this is a chance for them to know more about China, what China is really like. It's quite different from what it was twenty years ago."

The Confucius Classroom program is in about forty countries, including more than fifty American schools and universities.

A recent report said more schools in the United States are teaching Chinese and Arabic, although the numbers are still low. But it said foreign language teaching in public elementary and middle schools dropped sharply in recent years. Fewer schools teach French, German, Russian or Japanese.

There are language teacher shortages. But some schools say a federal law that only measures progress in math and reading has hurt language teaching.

The federal government paid for the survey by the Center for Applied Linguistics.

And that's the VOA Special English Education Report, written by Lawan Davis and Chris Lehman. You can post comments and find captioned videos on our Web site, I'm Steve Ember.