|Leah Markworth, a ninth-grade student from Mission Bay High School, performs a selection from the classic Beijing opera The Drunken Beauty during the 12th annual National Chinese Language Conference in San Diego on Friday. [For China Daily/Liu Yinmeng]|
It was Leah Markworth's parents who decided she would attend a bilingual public school program. She ended up enrolling in an Mandarin immersion program in San Diego, California, where she started learning Chinese in first grade.
As Leah, now 15, delved deeper into the language, her entire family developed a keen interest in Chinese culture while she is thinking of a career in international relations.
"I don't even know who I would be right now without Chinese. I've gotten so many opportunities to perform and to travel, and to talk to so many new people," the ninth grader from Mission Bay High School told China Daily after her performance in Beijing Opera during the 12th annual National Chinese Language Conference, which took place from May 9 to May 11.
The largest annual gathering in the US of Chinese-language practitioners is organized by the College Board and Asia Society in collaboration with Confucius Institute Headquarters. It saw the attendance this year of more than 1,300 participants from 44 states and Washington DC, as well as seven other countries.
A good understanding of the Chinese language helps US students become competitive in schools and careers in an increasingly interdependent global society, the organizers and participants at the conference said.
"The global education makes us better understand the importance of Chinese-language education. It reveals the pursuit of the equality and justice, tolerance and innovation, diversity and mutual respect," said Ma Jianfei, deputy chief executive of Confucius Institute Headquarters and vice-chairman and secretary-general of the international society for Chinese Language Teaching, during his opening remarks on Friday.
"The Confucius Institute is a model of international education partnership. It illustrates the concept of global education," he added.
"The Confucius Institute Headquarters will ensure each Confucius Institute continues to follow the educational mission; cherish the academic tradition of host countries and global educational concept; respect the autonomy of the host educational institutions; keep open and transparent, comply with the law, regulations and policies; continue to serve people around the world with the highest quality of Chinese-language educational offerings, and continue to make contributions to advance the global education," he continued.
Expanding on Ma's comments, Anthony Jackson, vice-president of education at Asia Society, said that exposing oneself to the differences between cultures at an early age helps prepare children to become successful global citizens in a multicultural society.
"Global education to me is the way in which we address the kind of factionalism, and sort of the difficulties that we are having in this country and around the world, in being able to relate to each other on ethnic, racial and religious grounds," Jackson said.
In an increasingly interdependent global society, Mandarin, spoken by over 1 billion people across the globe, almost one-fifth of the world's total population, has continued to flourish among American students.
John D'Andrea, world languages specialist and a former Chinese teacher from the Tucson Unified School District in Arizona, said he feel it's very important for students to grasp the understanding of another culture in a state where a second language is not a prerequisite for graduating high school.
"I think American students are interested in China; they just need encouragement to understand the language and understand the culture of the people," he said.
According to China's Ministry of Education, 489,200 international students chose to study in China in 2017, an increase of over 10 percent from 2016.
The 2017 National K-12 Foreign Language Enrollment Survey, published by American Councils for International Education, indicated that there were 227,086 Chinese learners across the formal US education system, making it the third most popular language being studied.
Chinese trailed far behind Spanish, which saw the enrollment of 7.36 million students, and French, which attracted 1.29 million students.
The survey noted that 17 percent of schools reported to be teaching Chinese said they conduct assessments of students' proficiency in the language.
D'Andrea, who majored in Chinese in the 1970s after being influenced by US President Nixon's opening of US-China relations, said, "We need to be constantly connecting with China, period. You've got one-fifth of the world's population, for crying out loud. We need to pay attention, and we can learn from each other," D'Andrea added.
Linda Liu, vice-president, international at the College Board, said teachers shoulder the responsibility of imparting knowledge, but also the important role of guiding the students of today, especially the Generation Z students, who grew up in an increasingly globalized society, to develop a multicultural perspective of the world.
"I would love to have this audience make sure you remember that you are also ambassadors for global education, for learning of Chinese," she said.
In addition to Chinese, Leah is also taking lessons in Spanish, and she's going to live in Germany next year. Having four languages would help her become a bridge in connecting people, she said.
"I think in today's society, there's a lot of discrimination about people you don't necessarily know a lot about. So if we all were introduced to another culture, the world would be so much more connected," she said.
(Source: China Daily)