Colorado students asked to choose a second language to study are increasingly picking Mandarin Chinese. According to The Denver Post, statewide, there are now more than 60 schools — from elementary to high school — that are offering courses in the most widely-used language in the world.
The desire to learn Mandarin is spreading beyond the classroom. The popularity of Chinese clubs is growing and the services of private Chinese language tutors are getting increasingly pricey.
While learning Mandarin is only catching on now in the United States, around the world its popularity is not in doubt. In addition to being the first language of a large proportion of Chinese residents, it is also spoken by more than 100 million people who are not of Chinese descent.
Interest in the language could be linked to China's growing presence on the global economic market. With China's influence on the rise, it's conceivable that Mandarin could become the second language of business after English. People who already have some familiarity with the language are likely to be in professional demand. The Post also points to the 2008 Beijing Olympics – often characterized as China's coming out party – as another factor contributing to the growth of interest in Chinese language and culture.
Speaking Mandarin has become a hot ticket on college applications as well as a starred addition to executive rÃ©sumÃ©s.
"If you are going to get around in the world, you are going to need to speak Chinese. It's a language everyone is going to be speaking," said aviation consultant Mike Boyd, who studies Mandarin for one intense hour a week at the Colorado Chinese Language Center in Denver.
Penetration of Chinese in Colorado schools isn't very deep yet, but it is growing. One school district in the state has already dropped Spanish in favor of a Chinese K-12 program. Several charters around the state run Mandarin language immersion programs beginning in kindergarten. And students' fascination with the language doesn't seem to end at high school graduation.
Mandarin has become such an important language around the state that the University of Colorado at Boulder has added a program called Teaching East Asia. It is geared toward training more Chinese instructors and furthering learning about China for more students. It is also aimed at getting a handle this year on just how many Chinese-language schools and learners are out there. The program uses funding from an initiative called STARTALK that was developed under President George W. Bush to promote teaching and understanding of "strategically important" languages.