by Xinhua writers Yang Shilong, Xu Xingtang
NEW YORK, Sept. 27 (Xinhua) -- When Morgan Jones first started learning Mandarin at Middlebury College in the U.S. northeastern state of Vermont, there were only 10 students for that first year class. By the time he graduated from the college, the students in that same first year class reached 60.
"That means the number grew to at least six times the number ever since I started," recalled Jones, now Chief Operating Officer of U.S.-China Strong Foundation, during a recent interview with Xinhua.
The Washington D.C.-based non-profit 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), there were somewhere around 200,000 Americans learning Mandarin Chinese. There are currently 400,000 learning Mandarin Chinese," said Jones, who speaks fluent Mandarin himself.
"For the first time across the nation, you saw Chinese instruction in elementary schools, middle schools and high schools... I think, it continues to grow," Charles Laughlin, East Asian Studies and Department Chair, University of Virginia, told Xinhua via phone.
"The most significant new aspect of this Chinese Fever, was that it went down to the level of primary and secondary school education," said Laughlin, who specializes in Modern Chinese Literature.
Chinese was categorized along with Arabic, Swahili and Icelandic as a "Less Commonly Taught Language" in the United States when Laughlin was in college in the U.S. state of Minnesota about 30 years ago,
Now, the world's oldest written language is the second most commonly spoken non-English language, only after Spanish, in the United States.
"There was an English fever in China when I left for the U.S., now we are seeing a Chinese Fever here," said Chen Jinguo, a Mandarin teacher with the China Institute, a non-profit organization in the United States dedicated to advancing a deeper understanding of China.
Chen, who immigrated to the U.S. in early 1990s, noted young Chinese have been furiously learning English for years, particularly after the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.
It is estimated about 300 million Chinese, nearly as many people as there are in the United States, are English language learners in China.
Meanwhile, there were some 353,000 Chinese students studying in the United States, accounting for 34 percent of the total number of international students in the country, according to a report published by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in May 2016.
Jones, who had lived in Shanghai, China for about 7 years, said he is very happy to see Mandarin becomes popular in the United States 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 we are looking forward to seeing more American students 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."
Aisling McCaffrey, who is studying Mandarin at China Institute, echoed Jones' words.
"If you want to learn a culture, you should learn the language, because how are you gonna talk to the people and know what they are doing if you can't talk to them?" McCaffrey told Xinhua.
"I realize that for some people, politics is very very important and I respect their views, but at the same time they don't know what Chinese people are like, they've never talked to the people and I think that they could take the opportunity to go to China and see what it's really like because it is a wonderful place," she added.
Each year, actually, Jones' organization selects 100 American students to serve as ambassadors at the grassroots level. These students have studied in China and have a deep understanding of Chinese culture and history. As ambassadors, they not only share their transformative China experiences, but also play a vital role in furthering the foundation's mission.
FOOTNOTES TO CLOSER TIES
Both China's English Fever and America's Chinese Fever are footnotes to the increasingly closer and stronger people-to-people exchanges between the largest developed and the largest developing countries.
People-to-people exchanges, particularly between the youth of the two countries, have made China-U.S. ties "warmer, more resilient and more dynamic," said Chinese Vice Premier Liu Yandong in her address to a China-U.S. cultural forum at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York on Tuesday.
"Maintaining a healthy and stable development of China-U.S. relations will not only benefit the two peoples but also contribute to world peace and prosperity," said Liu. "So in this new period, China and the U.S. should fully leverage the unique effect of people-to-people exchanges and push for greater improvement of China-U.S. ties."
Liu will co-chair the dialogue with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Washington D.C. on Thursday. It is one of the four high-level dialogue mechanisms established during a meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Donald Trump in April. E