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Mandarin Learning Is a Must

Mandarin Learning Is a Must

By Jack Markell and Gary R. Herbert

Oct. 25, 2016, at 7:00 a.m.

America's economic growth is inextricably tied to the strength of its bilateral trade and investment relationships around the world, but we will fall short of achieving our full economic potential if we fail to prepare the next generation to manage those relationships.

Tomorrow's leaders must be able to compete, work and thrive in a globalized world with diverse, multilingual consumers and economies in which China and the U.S. will continue to be major players. By offering American students early education opportunities to learn Mandarin, we can prepare them for careers in a world and workplace in which our country's bilateral ties play a consequential role.

We are encouraged by the growing number of American students who have begun learning Mandarin in school in recent years. The U.S. Department of Education reported that after Spanish, Mandarin was the most popular dual-language education program implemented by individual states in 2013.

Still, we have a lot of ground to make up if we are to equip our students with the necessary language tools to engage with the world's second-largest economy. While China boasts more than 300 million English-language learners, there are only 200,000 K-12 Mandarin language learners here in the U.S. Further, English classes are mandatory for Chinese K-12 students, but less than 0.4 percent of American K-12 students are currently studying Mandarin.

America Isn't as Smart as We Think

American students and adults face a serious human capital deficit compared to the international community.

In our states, we are proud to be investing in U.S.-China ties by advancing language immersion programs and promoting Mandarin language learning for our students. In Utah and Delaware, respectively, Mandarin language learners make up 2.2 percent and 1.2 percent of our K-12 populations.

Utah has the highest percentage of students learning Mandarin in school of any state, with 93 schools offering Mandarin courses and 47 Chinese dual-language immersion schools. In fact, 20 percent of all Chinese dual-language immersion schools are located in Utah. Under these programs, students are thriving and educators are seeing a significant uptick in both test scores and overall learning comprehension.

In Delaware, the number of Mandarin language teachers has grown from 0 to 23 in just four years, student enrollment in Chinese immersion programs has jumped more than seven-fold since 2012, and the state was the nation's second to implement language immersion programs, which include Mandarin. Meanwhile, Delaware has launched a study-abroad program for high school students to spend a portion of their summer in China – improving their Mandarin language skills while participating in STEM programs and gaining a better understanding of Chinese culture.

We encourage states to join us in working with the U.S.-China Strong Foundation, a global nonprofit that seeks to strengthen U.S.-China ties by ensuring our future leaders have the knowledge and expertise to engage with China. Last September, the foundation launched its 1 Million Strong campaign to increase the number of U.S. K-12 Mandarin language learners to one million by 2020. It is an ambitious effort, but one that enjoys strong support from the highest levels of the U.S. and Chinese governments, the business community, nonprofit stakeholders and educational institutions.

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