Language practitioners meet

Updated: 2013-04-08 11:41

By Liu Yuhan in Boston (China Daily)

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The National Chinese Language Conference, which began on Sunday in Boston, has drawn more participants in this, its sixth year - instructors, education-policy makers and school administrators all trying to keep up with developments in teaching and learning Chinese.

Some 1,200 people were expected to attend the threeday conference, which is organized by the Asia Society and the College Board in collaboration with the Beijing headquarters of the Confucius Institute (also known as Hanban, the acronym for the institutes' oversight body affiliated with China's Education Ministry) and the organization Primary Source.

Under the theme "Engage the Future", a broad mix of topics related to the teaching of Chinese in the United States were discussed on the conference's first day: examining

reading and writing across levels, developing a studentcentered Chinese class, and engaging Chinese-language students through STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

Christopher Livaccari, director of education and language initiatives at the New York-based Asia Society, has been attending the annual conference since its inception in 2008. the turnout gets bigger each year, he said.

"The number of participants grew from 700 to over 1,200 - not only growing in size, but also in enthusiasm from participants. We can see a tremendous growing number of American students getting interested in Chinese learning," Livaccari said.

"Americans are increasingly looking to connect with China and learn more about Chinese culture, and we'd love to be part of that."

The heightened interest, he said, is largely motivated by economic self-interest: More and more Americans are seeing opportunities to work in China or with Chinese entities as the country's economy continues to grow. Livaccari believes that as peopleto - people communication becomes more common, relations between China and the US will improve.

With support from the ministry-affiliated Confucius Institutes, Chinese has become available to colleges and other institutions even in rural areas of the US, said Robert Davis Jr, executive director of Chinese language and culture initiatives for the College Board, which administers the SAT and other standardized exams.

"The College Board does have a very big guest-teacher program, which should include 172 Chinese teachers in the United States, and these teachers ended up being very excited to teach Chinese in the community," Davis said.

A challenge, he said, is finding enough native Chinesespeaking teachers for rural communities amid growing demand generally across the US.

"We are very lucky to have the guest-teacher program that Hanban supports - sending Chinese teachers throughout the United States, and it's safe to say many communities in America would not be able to teach Chinese without the program," Davis said.

Jessie Mangus, a social studies teacher at Jay County High School in Portland, Indiana, said that while her students develop their skills by learning about Chinese arts and calligraphy, the entire school also benefits.

"Our superintendent went to China and developed sister - school relationships with China," Mangus said. "One of the things that came from that was that an interest in Chinese language and Chinese culture was formed. three years ago, we started our very first language program with Hanban and the College Board.

"We are a small rural area, and the idea is that you are able to realize there's a larger world out there than just Jay County, and that you're part of that world," the teacher said. "It's difficult for young people here to realize that they are a part of a bigger picture. And as we offer Chinese classes, they come to realize it's more than a just a language - it's a different culture they might want to explore."

The National Chinese Language Conference has been held in other big US cities in years past, including Washington and San Francisco, attracting more than 5,000 participants from all over the world, including those from 48 US states.