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Valley language courses reflect China’s growing clout

Published: Wed, February 16, 2011 @ 12:01 a.m.

By kristine gill



As China emerges as a global superpower, American schools are shifting curriculum to include courses that teach Chinese. Some schools even have stopped teaching Romance languages.

Canfield Village Middle School students started introductory courses for Chinese this school year.

“It’s tricky, but it’s not that hard,” said seventh-grader Abby Forystek.

Her teacher Sarah Siao is originally from Taiwan.

“I think the students are really learning and they are really, really interested,” Siao said, adding that many students have expressed an interest in traveling to China and taking advantage of career opportunities where the language is required.

“With China’s prominence in the world market, it seemed like a natural choice for a language course,” said seventh and eighth grade principal Jo Taylor.

The class could now be in jeopardy after recent layoffs as the district regroups after a failed November levy.

Warren City Schools has offered a four-year Chinese language program to high schoolers for the past 27 years and was one of a handful of schools in the state offering the language when it began.

Lauren Mangino has taught Chinese through the program since its inception and said the language’s more than 50,000 characters make it difficult to learn at first.

“It’s easy to speak, the grammar is simple, but the writing makes it very complex,” she said. “In the beginning, kids are curious. When they realize how hard it is, they lose interest. They really have to be motivated from within.”

Mangino said varied lesson plans help maintain that motivation in students, many of whom are interested in Asian culture when they begin.

“It’s the wave of the future,” she said.

The Asia Society, a nonprofit headquartered in New York that works to strengthen ties and improve understanding between the United States and Asia, is working with 60 schools nationwide this year, pairing them with Chinese schools to improve their new language programs.

Chris Livaccari, associate director of education and the Chinese language initiative, said interest in the language is growing.

“The kind of student populations learning Chinese are getting more and more diverse,” he said. “It used to be more elite private schools or areas with bigger populations of Chinese citizens who were offering the courses. Schools in rural and urban areas are starting to embrace Chinese language programs.”

Livaccari used to teach Japanese and saw the language surge in popularity in the 1990s. But interest has since shifted.

“Obviously the most important reason the interest in Chinese is growing is that the perception among many Americans is that China is going to be a very important partnership for the U.S.,” he said.

Any intial fear native English speakers had regarding the difficulty of Chinese has also dissipated, Livaccari said.

“There was a time when schools were like ‘Can my kids really learn this?’ Now there’s a history of programs that have been successful,” he said.

The Chinese government has taken a large stake in the effort, paying for its own teachers to work in U.S. schools through the Confucius Classrooms Network. There are 20 U.S. schools participating now including Chagrin Falls Exempted Village and Gahanna-Jefferson school districts, which receive funds and approval from the Chinese Ministry of Education.

Siao uses an online textbook with games for the class. Last week, students heard a recorded pronunciation of a Chinese character then had to shoot at the paper lantern with the same character printed on it. They also took turns introducing celebrities and saying which country they were from in Chinese.

“My role will be more like a facilitator,” Siao said. “I help them go in the right direction. In the class I usually ask them to practice. They are the ones to seek knowledge, not me. So it’s a different concept.”


1castironstrawbreaker(6 comments)posted 5 years, 5 months ago

That's a great idea. Kudos to the principle for thinking outside the box.

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2WarrenRicheyKid(169 comments)posted 5 years, 5 months ago

Chinese is a world language whose power and prestige reelect its growing economy. Those who want a piece of the action had better learn the language.

The opinion that world languages aren't important for US students to learn is really a call for a third rate education.

When you learn a foreign language well, not just to order menu items, you understand other ways of thinking, a very importan business skill. You deal with interested parties without the need of sometimes faulty interpreters.

Without Benjamin Franklin's French skills would we have gotten French assistance in the Revolution? I doubt it.

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3WarrenRicheyKid(169 comments)posted 5 years, 5 months ago

The CIA World Fact Book places Chinese GNP at over five trillion dollars in 2010. Germany's at 3.3 trillion for the same year. Seems like Canfield Schools are on the right track.

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4AndyB(3 comments)posted 5 years, 5 months ago

Seems like a waste when Canfield just failed a levy and cut a number of teachers.

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5JME(802 comments)posted 5 years, 5 months ago

Think again youcantsilencetruth. Your going to be one of those persons who will be left behind.

"China officially surpassed Japan as the world's second biggest economy,"

"Analysts project China will continue to grow at a quick pace, with many forecasting it will take over the U.S. as the world's largest economy within the next 20 years."


Even GM would agree, it's the worlds largest car market:


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6moneymoney(21 comments)posted 5 years, 5 months ago

Remember when all the kids were learning Japanese? What happened to that? China's economy is fake. They're the flavor of the month. If you're young you should learn German. They have the largest economy in Europe and will likely remain strong for a long time. Unfortunately, political correctness compelled many university foreign language college programs to drop their German majors, YSU included. This is because YSU is idiotic. They want you to learn Swahili so that you can trade chicken bones with witch doctors. Unfortunately, there's not a lot of money in the chicken bone trade.

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7ValleyNative(174 comments)posted 5 years, 5 months ago

Do you really think the kids are learning this? lol. You people get so out of shape lol. So many idiots in the valley.Who still remembers the Spanish they learned except for "ugly", "girl" and "bathroom"? Good idea overall, but since the kids can't write in Chinese on facebook, it probably won't be remembered past 5th period.

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8Tigerlily(509 comments)posted 5 years, 5 months ago

Learning another language, any language, helps the human brain diversify and create new sets of connections, and later in life can stifle the progress of diseases like Alzheimers. I find the focus on learning another language boiling down to economic and foreign relations because of economics to be a hopelessly limited utilitarian outlook, which is the dumby outlook of Valley natives historically. There are more reasons to learn other languages than whether or not a country is an economic power, or you need it to speak to bosses, or to your illegally employed waiters or your own lawnmen or nannies. There are real physiological benefits to it, as well as cultural benefits. Learning another culture by way of their language is a beautiful education. Even if you don't become a fluent speaker. It's the attempt. Appreciate learning for the sake and beauty of learning, period.

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9verita(15 comments)posted 5 years, 5 months ago

Canfield certainly isn't the first school in the area to teach the language. One wonders, with overall poorer test scores and many students graduating unable to read or do simple math, whether the focus should be on the basic 3R's and understanding concepts.

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10JME(802 comments)posted 5 years, 5 months ago

"You really have to explain to me how not speaking Chinese means someone is going to get left behind. That's a really funny claim."

You'll get left behind because your refusal to accept the fact that the Chinese growing market is not real - show us some proof that it isn't.

It's not so prevalent in the Mahoning Valley, but the Spanish language is used allot in larger cites because of larger hispanic population. Walk into a Lowe's in the Columbus area and you'll see "entrada" on the door.

Regarding Chinese wages, they are going up which is what basic economics would tell us it eventually would happen - this is actually a good opportunity for the U.S. to re-build it's manufacturing base since it reduces the advantages of making products in China.


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11Tigerlily(509 comments)posted 5 years, 5 months ago

verita, Canfield doesn't have a problem with producing students who can't read and do math. So they can afford to teach their children more things than the basics. Which is how it should be everywhere, but unfortunately not every school district has the tax base to afford the best texts, equipment and teachers.

Unfortunately, Canfield will be losing some teachers and staff next year. So, who knows. Maybe the quality of the education that has provided for the best education their students can get for so many years now will go down because of that.

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12300(573 comments)posted 5 years, 5 months ago

In my former position, I'd make the final call on new hires for the company's engineering section.

I'll shed a bit of light on this. Firstly, unless the student was from MIT or CalTech, if they weren't proficient in a language other than English, their application was thrown out before it even reached my eyes. While I'd at least look at the MIT/CalTech apps, I never approved any who couldn't function at the appropriate level in a 2nd language.

At the end of the day, 90% of the time only applicants who could speak fluently a 2nd language and were proficient in a third were ever hired in my division.

I did this for 3 reasons. 1. Even though the working language for projects was English, our teams were international. Everyone was expected to be worldly, in addition to their engineering expertise. 2. The modern workplace requires flexibility, and it's been my experience that those who can speak other languages have also spent time outside of their native comfort zones. If an applicant hasn't ever lived in a different society than that in which he was raised, he is almost always rigid in his thinking processes. 3. People who have traveled and have learned foreign cultures tend to be more complete people. They needed to be more than just a civil engineer or mechanical engineer, they needed to be well-rounded people, and those who can speak other languages overwhelmingly tend to be much more well-rounded.

Lastly, only someone who has never had any first-hand experience in a high-level job would say that "everyone already speaks English." That's not true at all. While English is the most prevalent language for international business, that doesn't mean that everyone speaks it proficiently. Not to mention, what do you do when you're in negotiations that are taking place in English, but then you go to lunch or get a coffee, and the other side switches back into their language? That puts your team at a disadvantage.

Good for Canfield, and I wish that there were more languages being taught at the primary and secondary levels. Unfortunately, many people from places in the South and Midwest find out too late that doors have been shut to them because of their limited language skills. And, it's usually too late by that time for them ever to proficiently learn a new one.

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131Marine(29 comments)posted 5 years, 5 months ago

Mr. Zambrini and school board members,we failed to pass the levy in November and you have chosen to place it on the May ballot; and now this. Why in God's name do we need add a staff member to teach Chinese when we have a financial crisis in our midst; or do we? This does not make it easy for those of us who previously supported the levy to do so again. Better ways to "SPEND" our money....

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14lucy0898(7 comments)posted 5 years, 5 months ago

OK people here's the truth. Canfiled decided to offer the "Chinese Class" to a handful of pre-selected students. These students were chosen by their teachers. Now, I have a straight "A" student who wasn't given the opportunity. Canfield does what it always does. Waste time, money and resourses on a select chosen few! In the meantime all of our seventh and eighth graders are sitting in music/band seven to eight periods per week. Hmmm....even Obama said "schools need to be focusing on math and science". And that man is an idiot!!!! They can shove the "Chinese Class" right up their ass!

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15Tigerlily(509 comments)posted 5 years, 5 months ago

Actually, no, this is a good way to spend it. They made cuts to faculty and staff. This just wasn't one of them, and is probably more beneficial than those cut.

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16JME(802 comments)posted 5 years, 5 months ago

300, very well said. Particularly:

"Even though the working language for projects was English, our teams were international."

(This is true in many successful organizations)

"If an applicant hasn't ever lived in a different society than that in which he was raised, he is almost always rigid in his thinking processes. "

(This is why the Valley has been left behind)

"only someone who has never had any first-hand experience in a high-level job would say that "everyone already speaks English."... "

(statement speaks for itself)

"what do you do when you're in negotiations that are taking place in English, but then you go to lunch or get a coffee, and the other side switches back into their language? That puts your team at a disadvantage."

(I find this true when I visit customers in Montreal. Yes, they speak English but at times they will converse with each other in French. I'm thinking of learning the language because I want to know what they are saying, plus I think they would appreciate the effort.)

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17annaakita(15 comments)posted 5 years, 5 months ago

well, china does own us, so i suppose its good...lol

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18300(573 comments)posted 5 years, 5 months ago

Of course, it depends on the specifics of a company. If I'd been working for a bread company, foreign language wouldn't have been as important. Typically, applicants to my former company had MSs, and they knew that they'd have to be able to work on projects all over the globe. So, they were self-selecting to a degree, but we still received hundreds of applications every year (depending on the economics, we'd hire between 50-80 any given year). Language was the most applicable weeding-out aspect we found.

Nonetheless, a student can't even get accepted into top schools without 3-4 years of a foreign language at the high school level. Then, once there, they usually need to fulfill at least the 2nd-year level language courses in order to graduate.

Good schools have good foreign languages in their high-schools and below. The very best start at the elementary level. The people in Canfield should be pleased that their school's keeping their students competitive. For those who don't see a need for it, honestly, there's Columbiana county just to south, send your kids down there.

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19ValleyNative(174 comments)posted 5 years, 5 months ago

This would all be worth it if at the 2011 Gucci Bowl the Canfield kids started anti-Poland chants in Chinese. Boy, would that be something!

To think: "Xiou lui xizou, Poland!"

It would be a YouTube smash.

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20clevelandsports13(4 comments)posted 5 years, 5 months ago

Everyone loves to hate the best.

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21ValleyNative(174 comments)posted 5 years, 5 months ago

No, McDonald is the best. It's where I went. I live in Canfield now. McDonald has very small class sizes, but does so much academically and athletically (CC, football, basketball, etc) that you would think it would be much larger.

I mean, they are both exceptional schools. But when you have 200-300 kids a grade, of course you are gonna have some winners. But when you have 60 and have many success stories, that is impressive. And McDonald always votes down levies, too. Don't believe me? Ask how long they have had the awful football stadium.

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22clevelandsports13(4 comments)posted 5 years, 5 months ago

Yes, McDonald is a great school, as well as South Range

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23jetercp(67 comments)posted 5 years, 5 months ago

i find it very hard to believe that canfield still uses "chalk" boards

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24cambridge(4136 comments)posted 5 years, 5 months ago

JME....It's a world gone mad. I agree with everything you said.

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25iBuck(231 comments)posted 5 years, 5 months ago

There are multiple issues here.

Should US students learn foreign languages? Certainly. I love learning foreign languages, including classical languages. And that (and music) are great foundational background elements for great software engineers.

Should the Red Chinese government thugs be encouraged? Certainly not. They've had over 30K front businesses and many more spies in the USA, stealing intellectual property and our defense secrets (that's how they built their stealth plane, and their anti-satellite system that uses US guidance hardware). They abuse the people in and around Red China and must be stopped.

Should English be preserved as the language of the USA? Certainly. Having a common language has greatly helped our development and preserved the great ideas of the founders. A little bit of cultural mixing helps increase dynamic creativity, but there are limits.

We should also learn a lesson from China, which was once very advanced in science, art, and technology when Europe was still in its dark ages, but made bad decisions which put China in its own dark ages of art, science, technology, and economy while Europe was reborn and the USA flourished.

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26anothermike(227 comments)posted 5 years, 5 months ago

Things sure have changed in Canfield...I can recall a time when you were Not welcome there if your name ended in a vowel. That being said, hopefully the inept politicians will wake up before it becomes necessary for all Americans to be fluent in Chinese.....good grief!!

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27Tigerlily(509 comments)posted 5 years, 5 months ago

This isn't about anyone having to be fluent in Chinese. It's about educating children to have advantages in the international world, not in the small dumby world of the Valley, where they can't get jobs anyway. So many parents here would cut off their children's noses to spite their faces.

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28iBuck(231 comments)posted 5 years, 5 months ago

"i find it very hard to believe that canfield still uses "chalk" boards"

MIT still uses them.

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29iBuck(231 comments)posted 5 years, 5 months ago

I also wish the economics of language teaching was such that students and parents could be free to choose which language the student takes. I remember being required to take Spanish for a year, and rebelling by taking Latin the next 2 years. I've taken several others, since, and wish I had the resources to both practice those and study more. As one poster pointed out, people should pay for what they want, and the supply of teachers (and teaching materials) affects the price. And the numbers of suppliers of, e.g. cable programming in various languages depends on the perceived profitability of offering programming, ditto for tourism, and class offerings (though the feral federal government has a distorting effect on the latter).

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30AntiFascist(61 comments)posted 5 years, 5 months ago

If you trolls like China's economy so much, move there and become a commie.

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31Tigerlily(509 comments)posted 5 years, 5 months ago

Right, because that's what everyone is saying, Antifascist. Extremist remarks like yours are absurd.

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32ValleyNative(174 comments)posted 5 years, 5 months ago

Just when I forget how asinine some people in the Valley are, AntiFascist saves the day!

What does learning a language have to do with loving an economy? I learned Shakespeare, but it doesn't mean I want to go back to men playing the roles of women in plays.

Oh well, the incorrigible are called so for a reason.

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33candystriper(575 comments)posted 5 years, 5 months ago

I hope she is able to keep her job.

My son had the opportunity to take Chinese in high school but selected Statistics.

I recently spoke with a 64 year old Veterinary Pathologist with Astrazeneca. He is leaving soon for a 2 year "required" assignment in Shanghai. He dreads going at his age. He will be assigned to live in the American towers....didn't sound very glamorous...he does not speak the language.

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34anothermike(227 comments)posted 5 years, 5 months ago

Don't know anyone that is fluent in french, spanish or any other lanquage by taking some classes in high school. Being able to converse in English with anyone and getting "C"s or "D"s in English is a distinct possibility. Doesn't happen when you are attempting to learn a lanquage that is foreign to you. You need to "live it". We speak our lanquage from the time we are babies, and learn the "grammar" part when we attend school, not the other way around.....

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35cambridge(4136 comments)posted 5 years, 5 months ago

Erplane.....Great post.

There is the world the way you want it to be and there is the world the way it is. People that are so set in their ways that they reject reality are only holding themselves back.

rudy....People all over the world speak English. Many Europeans speak multiple languages. If we want to keep our seat at the table we need to play the game that all those other countries have always played. It is what it is.

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36JME(802 comments)posted 5 years, 5 months ago

Kudos to Cambridge, I actually agree with your post, and Erplane's.
See, we can all get along.

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37ARW(5 comments)posted 5 years, 5 months ago

What a waste of time and space and paper. The teacher was told last week that she'll be out of a job at the end of the school year! Canfield Schools does do a lot of things half-assed and backwards!

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38educationconcerns(1 comment)posted 5 years, 5 months ago

It is a great opportunity for students to learn about languages and cultures; however, we should not lose sense of the importance of core courses and practical needed classes such as financial literacy, computer technology, and overall business oriented classes. These classes are indispensable for our children and our future...

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