American school systems, often strapped for cash and forced to divert resources toward preparing kids for standardized achievement tests, have been slowly decreasing their foreign-language offerings. According to the New York Times, “thousands” of American schools have dropped languages from their foreign-language programs in the past decade. Japanese has been especially affected, but the number of schools offering instruction in European languages like French and German is also declining.
However, even though the study of foreign languages in general has declined, the number of American students learning Chinese is on the increase. Over the past 10 years, the number of American schools teaching Chinese has increased substantially, from around 300 to around 1,600.
There are a couple of different factors driving this trend. One reason, of course, is China’s growing economic clout. Another is the fact that the Chinese government, through Hanban, a language council affiliated with the Chinese Education Ministry, sponsors Chinese “guest teachers” to come to the US and teach. Hanban contributes $13,000 toward each guest teacher’s salary, with the school district paying the rest. To a school district having trouble making ends meet, the extra money makes a big difference.
For example, here’s what Parthena Draggett, the director of the world languages department at Ohio’s Jackson High School, told the New York Times:
“We were able to get a free Chinese teacher. I’d like to start a Spanish program for elementary children, but we can’t get a free Spanish teacher.”
So far, Hanban, which works with the College Board to administer the guest teacher program, has sent 325 teachers to teach in US schools. The two organizations also offer a program that subsidizes trips to China for American educators. It’s wonderful that more American students are learning Chinese, and that the program helps cash-poor school districts offer more foreign language classes. At the same time, it’s sad that other foreign language offerings are becoming scarcer, especially in the younger grades, when it’s easier to learn a new language.