Mandarin necessary for future exchanges

Updated: 2011-12-09 11:05

By Zhao Yanrong (China Daily)

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WASHINGTON - Citing the strategic importance of the relationship between the United States and China, the US government has a strong desire to learn Mandarin, according to a senior adviser at the US State Department.

"Some of the study abroad programs funded by the US government are focusing on languages, and Mandarin is definitely one of them," Carola McGiffert, director of the 100,000 Strong Initiative, said on Thursday.

"We are actively, as a government, trying to train more Mandarin speakers," she said.

Before her trip to Beijing to discuss the 100,000 Strong Initiative and the State Department's involvement in the Booey Lehoo benefit concert in Beijing on Dec 17, McGiffert, who is also senior adviser to the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, highlighted the importance of Mandarin in the US.

McGiffert said when she worked for the Office of the United States Trade Representative a few years ago, there was only one Mandarin speaker in the general consul office who translated very important trade documents, "and this young man was an intern".

"We need more Mandarin speakers at all levels and all professions, whether they are with the government or not," the senior adviser said.

According to the Institute for International Education's 2010 Open Doors report, nearly 10 times more Chinese students come to the US for educational programs than Americans to China.

It is estimated that 600 times more Chinese study the English language than Americans study Mandarin.

"This imbalance in knowledge can undermine strategic trust between the two countries," a news release from US State Department said.

The 100,000 Strong Initiative seeks to prepare the next generation of American experts on China, who will be charged with managing the growing political, economic and cultural ties between the US and China.

Learning Mandarin is an important part of this study abroad program.

"The young men who studied in China, at the very least, their minds are open. And they have learned how to integrate with different cultures and learn how to communicate with people from different backgrounds, and have their eyes opened to the possibilities," McGiffert said.

"We are trying to do what China has been doing for a long time, which is trying to understand from another side."

This initiative was announced by US President Barack Obama in November 2009, and launched by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in May 2010.

The 100,000 Strong Initiative relies fully on private-sector financial support, from companies such as Coca-Cola and Citigroup, and implemented by non-governmental organizations in the US.

The program has received nearly $11 million in private funding, but it is still a long way to go to achieve its goal of $68 million.

The Chinese government, on the other hand, has committed to 20,000 scholarships for American students to study in China, through the initiative.

Americans Promoting Study Abroad, with the support of the State Department, is organizing a major concert to celebrate the US-China educational ties on Dec 17. It will feature of the Black Eyed Peas as well as other American and Chinese artists at the National Stadium in Beijing.

China Daily