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Margaret Key
East Asian Studies Center

George Vlahakis
University Communications

Last modified: Monday, June 23, 2008

Teachers come to Indiana University to learn how to teach Chinese to U.S. school children

Institute funded by a $120,000 federal grant, is part of the National Security Language Initiative

June 23, 2008

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- In response to China's growing economic importance and other factors, Mandarin Chinese is becoming one of the fastest growing languages for students in secondary schools and colleges nationwide.

Learning Chinese

Two dozen school teachers are immersed in a course at IU to learn how to teach Chinese.

Print-Quality Photo

At Indiana University, 24 middle and high school teachers are immersed in an intensive, two-and-a-half-week course on teaching Mandarin Chinese.

IU's East Asian Studies Center's Chinese Pedagogy Institute (CPI) is funded by a $120,000 STARTALK grant, part of the National Security Language Initiative, a federal program that aims to increase the number of Americans learning critical need languages such as Chinese and Arabic.

"For the past 10 years on the coasts, there's been a surge of interest in learning Chinese in the schools," said Margaret Key, associate director of the East Asian Studies Center. "It's reaching Indiana a little late. Our neighbors in Illinois and Ohio got a head start on us in establishing a road map for building programs to meet the demand, but we've been quickly catching up."

Indiana secondary school student enrollment in Chinese language classes has increased by 334 percent over the last two years, to 1,219, according to the Indiana Department of Education. There were just 261 students in 2006.

"It's the global economy. China is a huge market for American goods and services. Parents want their children to be as prepared as possible to compete in the global economy, and Chinese language skills are important tools for them to have in their toolbox," Key said.

Across Indiana, Chinese is taught as a second language in 27 public and two private schools. Since the fall of 2006, 19 new Chinese programs have been started in public schools, Key said. This growing interest is mirrored at the collegiate level. At IU, there has been a 33 percent increase in Chinese language enrollment from 2005-06 to 2007-08.

Last summer, Indiana became the first state to adopt East Asian language standards -- state-level standards specific to Chinese, Japanese and Korean languages. According to the Asia Society, there are about 780 Chinese programs nationwide.

While Spanish remains the most popular second language taught in the Hoosier state, its popularity increased by only 14 percent over the same time period.

While the institute is attracting practicing and prospective Chinese teachers from Indiana, others have come from California, Delaware, Illinois and Washington. Jennifer Li-Chia Liu, coordinator of IU's Chinese Language Program, is the lead instructor, joined by faculty from the University of Iowa and the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

Beginning today, the teachers' efforts will center on two dozen local students who have never spoken the language before. The students will get an introduction to Chinese language and culture, including basic listening, speaking, reading and writing skills.

"A Taste of Chinese" will serve as the teaching practicum component for the CPI trainees, providing them with hands-on experience applying what they learn at the institute to a real-life classroom setting.

It will culminate with a program in the auditorium at Willkie Residence Center, 150 N. Rose St., next Tuesday (July 1). Students will display their Chinese skills to parents, friends and the local community through the performance of skits, songs and storytelling.

"We're trying to demonstrate to the participants and to the community that it's possible to learn some Chinese in even a short period of time," Key said.

Those interested in attending "A Taste of Chinese" should register by Friday (June 27) by sending a note to