By Mallory Schlabach, Editor in Chief
Face the Facts
Recent studies show Mandarin is the new Spanish. Just a decade ago Spanish was taught in 79 percent of elementary schools. Mandarin Chinese wasn’t even considered as an option.
But today, with China’s increasing growth in economics and world trade, American schools are scrambling to find enough qualified teachers to teach Mandarin. According to the American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages, only 300 to 400 teachers are qualified to teach in schools; more than 2,400 schools are requesting teachers so children can be taught Chinese as early as kindergarten.
Mandarin Chinese is the most spoken language in the world with more than 860 million speakers, but it is also debated by linguists that either this language or Hungarian are the hardest languages to learn to speak and write in.
Besides having to learn how to write and read Chinese characters, one must also master the four tones of Mandarin, which, along with consonants and vowels, help others to distinguish what you say. For many words in Mandarin, one word could have different meanings simply by the tone inflected by the speaker.
Why all the hype to learn foreign languages now? When most college students today were elementary age, foreign language wasn’t taught in schools until seventh or eighth grades. Then the choices were either Spanish or French, depending on what region of the country one lived.
A year ago, President Bush designated $22 million in grants for public schools to expand their language programs to include more than the standard Spanish and French under the National Security Language Initiative. He listed six languages as "critical" to learn: Chinese, Arabic, Farsi, Hindi, Japanese and Russian, and then the mad rush to educate children in these languages began.
The interesting thing about learning languages is that there is no downside.
Correlation has been found between children learning more than one language and reading skills, correlation between high school foreign language studies and higher academic performance in college – and more importantly today, marketability.
In today’s job market, more often than not, the deciding factor in whether you will be hired depends on if you can speak more than just English. For America, jobs in southern or border states first look to see if a candidate is fluent in both English and Spanish.
For companies with branches worldwide, the need is for Mandarin, Japanese and Russian.
While learning languages may come easier to children, it’s never too late to try. Right now we’re in our early twenties; it could take us the next 70 years to meet and affect people around the world.
The guarantee is that English won’t be the norm for much longer.
Go out on a limb and learn a new language, the rest is easy. Oh, and ____! (Good Luck)