Tuesday, August 7, 2012


Is Chinese-language instruction a fad or is it here to stay? By Chinese I mean Mandarin as that is the language of government, education and business and is replacing the regional languages across the Chinese mainland.

Educated people used to learn classical Greek and Latin, the languages of the greats (or at least the great minds and great arts). Then French, and perhaps German. Remember Russian? After Sputnik, the US had thousands of Russian programs - Russian was the "language of the future". Today? Very, very few. Same with Greek and Latin, and increasingly with French and German incidentally.

Then Japanese came along. In the seventies and eighties, we thought that Japan was on the path to dominate the world and that we needed Japanese to compete (or survive per Darwin). That too has faded.

Now it is Chinese. Yet while the US pushes bravely along its "learn Chinese" path with its few thousand students, China is educating millions of its students in English. And while we know a few words in Chinese, they are becoming fluent in English. So should we do more? Or less?

Oh, and by the way - China is moving away from the testing craze because they see it is inappropriate for the 21st century and beyond while the US has embraced it. But that is a different discussion.

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