Saturday, October 15, 2005

Now Hiring: Chinese Language Teachers

With encouragement from the Chinese and American governments, US schools rush to include Chinese, the world's most spoken tongue.

After 2,400 schools expressed interest, Advanced Placement Chinese classes will be offered in high schools around the country starting next year. Beijing is paying for half the $1.35 million to develop the classes, including Chinese teachers' scholarships and developing curriculums and examinations.

Some parents worry at first about the relevancy and the difficulty of Chinese classes. The Foreign Service Institute, which trains American diplomats, ranks Chinese as one of the four most time-intensive languages to learn. An average English speaker takes 1,320 hours to become proficient in Chinese, compared with 480 hours in French, Spanish or Italian.

The number of Chinese language programs around the country, from elementary school through adult programs, has tripled in 10 years, said Scott McGinnis, an academic adviser at the Defense Language Institute in Washington. "Chinese is strategic in a way that a lot of other languages aren't."

The major obstacle is lack of teachers certified by an American college, a requirement of the No Child Left Behind law. Six states have signed or plan to sign agreements with the Chinese government to import teachers from China and send teachers from the United States to China for training.