More and more American students may be studying Chinese, but the number of them studying abroad in China and developing the linguistic competencies to engage with Chinese people remains few, according to Dan Davidson, president of the American Councils for International Education.

“The number going over to China, in my view, is still very small,” Davidson told China Daily. “If you looked at the number of total Americans studying abroad, it’s about 300,000 a year, and you know how many students there are in America – that’s 300,000 out of 18 million. That’s not an impressive number.”

The American Councils for International Education, an international nonprofit that helps students learn new languages and cultures through academic exchange and immersion programs, has partnered up with the 100,000 Strong Foundation to give more American students study abroad opportunities in China.

The partnership will allow American Councils to tap into 100,000 Strong’s network of students looking to study in China, and offer them opportunities to study abroad through federal academic programs. The collaboration will also allow the two groups to join forces in raising money for the programs, Davidson said.

“American Councils is an ideal partner for 100,000 Strong not only because of its 40-year commitment to international education in over 60 countries, but also its ability to support the learning of beginner to advanced Mandarin Chinese language, as well as bringing an understanding of Chinese culture and values to young Americans,” said Carola McGiffert, president of 100,000 Strong.

The Washington-based American Councils works with students who want to learn what they call “critical languages”, those from regions of the world that are not English-speaking, including Chinese, Hindi, Arabic, Turkish and Swahili.

“The reason American Councils joined this initiative is because we feel that English is okay, but we live in an English-dominant society in the first place, and our job is a different one – that is to encourage Americans to embrace the study, the serious study, of the major world languages, of which Chinese is king,” said Davidson.

“And yet, for the last two, three hundred years, the languages that most Americans study, if they study anything at all, are French, German and Spanish. Our education system still basically reflects a kind of post-colonial 19th century view of the world, where you study the languages of Western Europe,” he said.

According to the most recent data available from the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, students learning Mandarin increased to 60,000 in 2008, up 195 percent from 2005. Enrollment in Chinese language courses saw the biggest increase. The most-widely learned language in the US is still Spanish.

The American Councils for International Education conducted a census in 2009 and found that the actual number of schools offering Chinese in the US was about 40 percent greater than anyone had suspected, according to Davidson.

“Many of the programs weren’t on any lists, and teachers aren’t part of any associations. They were just hired because some superintendent or some school board said, ‘Hey, we need to do this,'” he said.

“You’ve got this kind of grassroots movement to add Chinese in addition to German, French and Spanish that have been available for a hundred years. The study of Chinese is definitely more popular, and it’s not just the heritage Chinese kids we’re talking about. This is clearly something bigger than that.”

By AMY HE October 23, 2014 in China Daily