Everything about China and it's culture

Everything about China and it's culture

Along with ABCs, some learn Chinese

Daria Taubin, 6, a first-grader at the Driscoll School in Brookline, during a Chinese lesson. ‘‘I teach my mom every word I really know,’’ she said.
Daria Taubin, 6, a first-grader at the Driscoll School in Brookline, during a Chinese lesson. ‘‘I teach my mom every word I really know,’’ she said.

All first-graders at the Driscoll School can write numbers 1 through 10, name the colors, and talk about plants and the solar system — in Mandarin Chinese.

They began studying Chinese in kindergarten.

Chinese, a language most school systems don’t offer until high school, if at all, is becoming popular in elementary classrooms around Greater Boston, as well as elsewhere in the nation. Spanish still reigns as the most popular language, but parents and lawmakers hope that Chinese soon will become commonly taught. School systems are starting the lessons with the youngest students in hope they learn the language well enough to compete in the new world economy, as China becomes an economic and political superpower.

During the last two to five years, schools in Sharon and Brookline have started elementary Chinese programs. Milton and Needham school systems offer Chinese before or after school. Belmont began offering Chinese instruction to all of its fifth-graders this year. The Carlisle school system is considering adding a pilot program in Chinese for elementary students this fall, and Amherst wants to add Chinese instruction for kindergartners in fall 2006.

The Asia Society in New York City estimates that about 24,000 of the 49.5 million elementary and high school students in the United States are studying Chinese, even though nearly 1.3 billion people speak Chinese in the world; the smallest proportion of US students studying the language are in elementary school. By comparison, more than 1 million students study French, a language spoken by 80 million people worldwide.

”China just is going to be a future power," said Marie Doyle, Carlisle superintendent. ”It behooves us to make sure the children are really studying the culture, the customs, and the language. The more they know, the more successful they will be in the business world."

Educators say early exposure to Chinese is critical. Chinese takes nearly three times as long as Spanish to master, according to the Foreign Service Institute, which trains American diplomats for the State Department. It takes 1,300 hours to achieve proficiency in speaking Chinese, while people need 480 hours to become proficient in French and Spanish.

At the Michael Driscoll School, which began its elementary Chinese program five years ago, about half of the students switch from Chinese to Spanish in the seventh grade. But first-grader Daria Taubin said she plans to continue learning Chinese through high school.

”I want to keep learning, learning, learning and then go to China," said the 6-year-old. ”I teach my mom every word I really know."

Her classmate Ibi Agba, who speaks a Nigerian dialect at home, said Chinese has been hard to learn because some of the sentences are too long to remember. But the 6-year-old said he likes writing pinyin, the English pronunciations of Chinese words, and impressing his parents ”When I speak Chinese to them, they say, ‘Wow,’ " he said.

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