Weefen Tsui, teacher of Mandarin at John Witherspoon Middle School, admits that Chinese is becoming one of the most popular foreign language options for American students. But she believes extending the classroom experience through a targeted use of technology is essential.
Mandarin is one of the most complex languages in the world. It has four tones that distinguish the meaning of a word from other similar-sounding words. Mastering these sometimes subtle distinctions is crucial, writes Assenka Oksiloff at the Princeton Patch.
To help her students learn tone, Tsui turned her teacher website into the hub of the virtual classroom, using online programs that allow users to make and send voice recordings.
While Manadrin is popular now, the number of students in Chinese language courses is set to grow as the subject is increasingly taught from a younger age. As well as being included in middle and high school curricula, a new after-school Chinese program for K-5 pupils was established at Community Park Elementary School to blend Chinese instruction with afterschool activities.
When those young learners move on to high school, they will learn to input Pinyin, the official system used to transcribe Chinese characters into Roman characters, so they can communicate electronically with Chinese speakers around the globe.
The transpacific interest doesn't only go one way, either. In the past two years the number of Chinese students in US schools has doubled.
According to the Institute of International Education, China sends more of its international students to America than to any other country, with 157,588 arriving in the 2010-11 academic year.
China currently provides around 21 percent of all international students newly enrolled in American schools – contributing roughly $4 billion to the American economy, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.