Interview: American students learning Mandarin reach 400,000: U.S. program head

Source: Xinhua| 2017-08-28 01:59:18|Editor: Zhou Xin
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NEW YORK, Aug. 27 (Xinhua) -- The number of American K-12 students learning Mandarin has doubled to around 400,000 in two years, Morgan Jones, Chief Operating Officer, U.S.-China Strong Foundation,told Xinhua in a recent interview.

The non-profit U.S. organization is leading a Chinese language education initiative called "1 Million Strong" which seeks to expand to 1 million the number of U.S. K-12 students learning Mandarin by 2020.


"We've definitely seen a lot of growth initially when we announce the program (in 2015). They were somewhere around 200,000 Americans learning Mandarin Chinese. There are currently 400,000 learning Mandarin Chinese," said Jones, who speaks fluent Mandarin himself.

Jones said the number was estimated based on data collected from various resources including American Council on Education which focuses mostly on public and private schools

"We also look at heritage schools where Chinese Americans are learning Mandarin Chinese," he said. "We also have our own in-house data team that has been reaching out to immersion schools throughout the United States."

"We're actually seeing that the numbers are growing more and more each time. It's extremely strong," he added. "There are many case studies with more schools opening up,literally bringing in tens of thousands of students to their school districts and programs across the nation."

Three factors have led to the rising popularity of learning Chinese in the U.S., Jones said.

"One of the things that I've noticed as well as obviously there's a strong economic relationship between both countries...I think that's really a huge cost to get people to want to learn Mandarin Chinese, to get involved in business, to find career opportunities or even compete fairly competition economically with China, which is key," he said.

The other aspect is learning Chinese helps Americans "dig deeper" into China's 5000-year history and culture as one has to "actually learn the language to immerse" himself in that environment, he said, "there are many Americans that are very interested in that."

"Learning Chinese language helps you understand a lot about the culture. I think for my own personal experiences as well to know that certain historical aspects and cultural aspects of Chinese culture that is really embedded in terms of the language and what it's all about," he said.

Third, the rapid growth and expansion of private Chinese-learning schools, programs, as well as related online programs, mobile phone apps,etc., also provides Americans greater accessibility and convenience to learn this language.


Jones, who had lived in Shanghai, China for about 7 years, said he is very happy to see Mandarin becomes popular in the U.S. as English does in China.

"Both countries will be able to speak in a language that they can both understand," he said."We don't have to be best friends. We also don't have to be adversaries, but if we can communicate with each other respectfully. That's gonna be able to bridge the gap between both cultures and the best way to start with."

"So (1 million strong) it's a huge program were looking forward to seeing more American student learning Mandarin Chinese," Jones said, adding 1 Million Strong "wants to be a part of that and pushing them for (the goal) as a leader," he said.

"Our mission is all about strengthening U.S.-China relations through students and youth," he added."There's various ways that you can strengthen the U.S.-China relationship on a very immediate level...(but if you) do that for more long-lasting behavior, you have to start with the youth and you have to start with education."

"You have to start with being able to get more people to learn Mandarin Chinese and to understand the language, to study ,to live there for a significant period of time, to meet teachers, make friends in China and hopefully these are friends who are going to be long lasting for years to come," he said.

The 1 million strong initiative is divided into three separate pillars, Jones said. The first pillar is teacher training. Second is the curriculum pillar, which makes sure there are proper standards K-12 schools are implementing to learn Mandarin nationwide. The last pillar is state and local outreach, where teachers will be trained to learn how to better teach Mandarin to K-12 students.

Announced in 2015 by the United States and China, 1 Million Strong is the second initiative led by the U.S.-China Strong Foundation. The first one -- 100,000 Strong started in 2009 and its initial goal of getting 100,000 American students to study abroad in China by 2014 was not only achieved, but also surpassed.