I sat down at the small wooden table in the dining room of my teacher’s house. In front of me were flashcards, a pencil, sheets of paper, a whiteboard and a box of dry erase markers. My confidence slowly disappeared as I realized that learning a new language might not be as fun and easy as I thought it would be. Thus began my four-year struggle through Chinese.
My decision to learn Chinese was influenced by my connection with the country as I am adopted from China. I took lessons for an hour every Saturday morning from a young woman who moved from China to the United States to attend college. My parents started out taking the language with me, and after three weeks of taking the language, they quit, deciding it was too hard. I ended my lessons because the amount of progress I was making was not comparable to the amount of time I was putting into the language.
Several other high schools around the Twin Cities have started teaching Chinese to students; some schools that currently offer Chinese include Breck, South High School, Minnetonka High School and Highland Park Senior High. As BSM prides itself on being another competitive high school, after much discussion the school decided to begin to offer the language in order to accommodate the growing number of students who are now seeking out high schools that offer Chinese. However good intentioned this pursuit may have begun, the decision to add Chinese to the curriculum is not a good idea right now. BSM should wait another couple of years before adding the course.
It is well known that Chinese is a hard language to learn. Unlike French or Spanish, the written text of Chinese does not correspond to how a person verbally says the word because it is not a phonetic language. As a result, taking a Chinese class in high school generally puts more of an emphasis on the ability to read and write characters rather than speak because that makes it easier to grade and gauge a student’s progress. Learning how to read and write is a language of its own.
Starting Chinese as a ninth grader and taking the language for four years is not going to teach students much information about the language. The level of proficiency that a student will achieve is not worth the effort. In 2011, I traveled back to China. I went to great lengths to achieve what I thought was a good foundation in the language by watching cartoons in Chinese, playing a Nintendo DS game targeted at teaching children the language, and listening to Chinese pop songs. Still, I discovered that I could barely understand what was being said to me let alone speak the language. It was embarrassing. This experience was very different than my trip to Mexico, where I was able to hold a conversation and understand almost everything being said to me after only four years of taking Spanish.
Some of the most widely attended colleges and universities by BSM students do not offer Chinese. As a result, students cannot continue learning the language if they wish to study at one of those particular colleges. The University of Saint Thomas, Saint Catherine University, and Saint John’s University are among those that do not offer the language. Other colleges and universities offer the course, but not as a major or minor.
As adults, businessmen and women may be working closely with China, however that does not mean they have to learn Chinese. It is easy for people to say that one in four people speak Chinese in the world when China’s population is roughly 1.3 billion (approximately 19% of the worlds population) and growing. And China’s students are currently learning English. On my most recent trip, I conversed more in English with adults and students than I ever did in Chinese.
I am not suggesting that BSM not offer the class, but simply wait until Chinese becomes a more prominent language in schools. Waiting means another two or three years, not five or ten. The popularity of Chinese immersion schools is growing each year and many parents have started to see the benefit of their child learning the language at a young age. As a result, there will be more of a need for more schools to offer Chinese in high school in years to come and colleges and universities can catch up and strengthen courses offered or implement Chinese into their language courses, thus allowing students to continue their education through college.