10/16/2008

Because we have so many French teachers

Ron Matus, St Petersburg Times, Wed, 10/15/2008:

When education guru Willard Daggett gives speeches, he often cracks this joke: Why are 1.4-million American kids learning French when India and China are reshaping the world? The punch line: Because we have so many French teachers.

Mandarin Chinese is spoken by more than 1-billion people. Yet just a few years ago, it wasn't even an afterthought in U.S. schools.

A national survey in 2000 by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages estimated that 5,000 students were learning Chinese -- barely a blip compared to the 4.8-million learning Spanish, and barely more than the 3,300 learning an American Indian tongue.

Today, an informed guess pegs the figure at 50,000, making Chinese far and away the fastest-growing language taught.

"The growth has been substantial," said Steve Ackley, spokesman for the foreign languages council. "Everyone realizes this is a country with whom we are going to have to deal on a business and social and cultural level in the future."

The demand has been so great that it's outstripping the ability of schools to find good teachers.

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