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China To Fund Program To Encourage Americans To Study Chinese

China's National Office for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language, known as Hanban, and the College Board, a U.S. group, have launched a five-year initiative to encourage the study of Chinese language and culture in U.S. elementary and secondary schools.

The initiative is part of an effort to address what the College Board calls a "critical shortage" of teachers of Chinese in the United States. Hanban will fund Chinese language programs developed by the College Board, a private New York-based association of more than 5,000 U.S. schools and universities.

China's minster of education, Zhou Ji, was in New York to announce the partnership. She says the program will help the world's most developed nation and the world's biggest country get to know one another better. "For our next generation for the two nations, it is very necessary to know each other. Now in China almost every school is teaching English as a second language. So many students, their English is much better than me. But now I think for USA students, they should know more about Chinese language and culture," she said.

A recent College Board survey of member schools indicated that 2,400 schools nationwide wanted to offer classes in Chinese language studies. Tom Matts of the College Board's world language initiative says much of the interest stems from the surge in China's economy. "From all reports, the presence of China in the world's economy is not about to go away and we do believe that this interest in studying Chinese is here to stay," he said.

The first step, according to Matts, is to remedy the shortage of teachers. "Short-term, we are essentially borrowing 150 teachers in Chinese from China over the next five years. Additionally, we are supporting teacher candidates, American citizens, American teacher candidates, who want to become certified teachers of Chinese in their states. So we will be providing scholarship funding for them to become certified teachers," he said.

Teacher candidates will be sought out among Chinese speakers in the United States, including the substantial immigrant community. Matts says educational exchanges also figure into program. Hanban will host 400 U.S. educators and parent groups to help them learn about Chinese education and build support for the program in their own school districts. effort to address what the College Board calls a "critical shortage" of teachers of Chinese in the United States. "Another part of that program is through a system of touring ensembles from China who will visit U.S. schools throughout the school year. The third way that we are addressing this is to address needs that are currently existing in classrooms. That is for teacher professional development and the development of more diverse and perhaps more effective instructional materials," he said.

The program will not be limited to language study, but will also include a cultural component. Minister Zhou, who earned a doctoral degree at New York's State University in Buffalo, says a knowledge of Chinese culture and philosophy will help improve economic ties. "I think the basic knowledge should be culture. They should know foreign countries' situation, history and people's concepts. That will help them to do their work," she said.

Zhou says she hopes more U.S. students will be speaking some Chinese in time for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.