Currently, many Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) eighth graders are nervously enrolling in high school courses. Many courses, such as math, are already determined for them, but one thing they have full control of is what language they take. Current PAUSD graduation requirements require students to have at least two years of a foreign language, but many students stay with a language until they reach the Advanced Placement (AP) class. For those who took a language in middle school, including Spanish, French and Japanese, most will continue on with that language.
One language taught at high schools but not at middle schools is Mandarin. Often referred to as Chinese, Mandarin is the official language of several Asian countries. The Chinese program started in 2006 and has 140 students, the size that PAUSD envisioned it to be.
“We expected there to be a section for each level, from level one to AP, which is in the fifth year,” world language Instructional Supervisor Kevin Duffy said.
It is rare that Chinese is taught at the high school level, and Paly students should take advantage of this. Living in California, it may seem that Spanish is the most useful language. However, with China’s growing economy, that is not the case. In the business world, people who are able to speak Chinese have an upper-hand in job opportunities as well as in gaining higher pay. Businesses would rather pay Chinese-speaking employees extra versus paying an employee who doesn’t know Chinese and a translator. More people non-native to Europe speak European languages than non-Chinese people speak Mandarin, creating a greater demand for Chinese-speakers.
“Chinese people learn English because it gives us more opportunities in terms of jobs or other things you may not envision right now,” Chinese teacher Liyuan He said.
In fact, Chinese could be more beneficial than English in the current business world. Lee Han Shih, who runs a business company, told the British Broadcasting Corporation that the English language is becoming less important to him financially due to the fact that he is taking western clients to do business in China, and Chinese thus becomes important and valuable. China is rapidly taking over the world economy. As the world’s fastest growing economy, China recently became the second largest economy behind the U.S. The Economist predicts that by 2020, China will surpass the U.S. as the biggest international superpower.
Junior Chuck Stephenson was given the opportunity to use his Chinese in order to help Palo Alto connect with a Shanghai district during his summer in sophomore year.
“I went on a trip to Shanghai through the city of Palo Alto to develop a sister city relationship with the district of Yong Pu,” Stephenson said. “I [used] my Chinese to talk to locals and make my way around the city.”
Instead of learning only what is taught about China in Contemporary World History, those learning Chinese understand important holidays as well as their meanings.
A reason for why students don’t take Chinese in Paly is because it has not been taught at middle schools. Jordan Middle School and Jane Lathrop Stanford Middle School have tried to established a Chinese program, but have struggled to start a class.
“[Chinese] has been offered [to middle schoolers] the past several years, but if only six students sign up for the class or only 10 students sign up, [the Chinese program] can’t run. If they don’t get around 22 [students] there to start, then they can’t run it,” Duffy said.
The expansion of Mandarin Immersion in PAUSD can hopefully promote Chinese to other students. Mandarin Immersion started at Ohlone during the 2008-09 school year, and now has 124 students in its program. PAUSD school board is debating passing it to Jordan by 2016-17 school year, and if passed, Ohlone graduates will continue immersion throughout middle school. Students who see their peers taking Chinese may want to enroll, and a Chinese program can get the boost it needs.
The school district showing support for the growing language at Paly could be a huge factor in getting more students to take Chinese
“Higher level of the school district needs to know the importance of this language, their support will make a big difference,” He said. “They can promote the program to incoming students and show students the benefits of this language to their parents.”
Along with the benefits of knowing Mandarin, students taking Chinese believe their peers should take advantage of Paly’s great program.
“I think that every student should consider taking Chinese at Paly,” Stephenson said. “There is a wonderful program here and an incredible teacher.”