By Liam Zanyk McLean & Owais Riaz
editor-in-chief & staff writer
With Asia’s largest economy, China’s influence on the world is hard to miss. Its products are sold in stores across the western world and its corporations are growing to be major players in international business. And while China’s economic dominance is well documented, its equally-influential cultural presence is less noticed.
This influence, however, is not missed by educators in the area. Yang Liu, a Chinese instructor at Saginaw Valley State University (SVSU), said that an increased number of schools in the area are teaching Chinese, and more Chinese students are coming to the United States to study.
“There are a few elementary and high schools in the area that are offering Chinese already,” Liu said.
Learning Chinese can be a huge boost in the job market, Liu added. She said that interest in the language at SVSU has boomed in recent years.
“Many of the students that take Chinese are Business majors,” Liu said.
Chinese is not currently offered in the classroom in MPS. However, students can take a Mandarin class through Michigan Virtual School, an online service. The cost of the class is $275, which is covered by the district.
Junior Brooks Royster took the online class for two years, but left the class feeling disillusioned.
“It was getting difficult to learn,” Royster said. “One time a week we had a chat room, so it was hard to have someone to practice with.”
Royster lived in Shanghai for two years, and would support the introduction of Chinese into the classroom. Concordia, the international school that he attended in Shanghai, required Chinese. He saw that being immersed in a language makes it much easier to learn.
“You can go out of class and use the stuff you learn,” Royster said. “You pick it up so quickly.”
Royster added that if Chinese is eventually introduced into the district, it would have to be taught from a cultural standpoint as well as a linguistic one.
“People have to understand where the language is coming from,” he said.
Despite the interest from students in taking the online class, there are currently no plans in the district to introduce Chinese into the classroom. According to MPS Foreign Language Coordinator Louann Bensinger, there is not enough total interest to justify it.
“It would be fabulous if we could offer Chinese as an elective at the high schools,” Bensinger said in an email interview. “We truly want to encourage our students to take a World Language. In order to offer a class we would have to have a strong interest from students, enough students to offer the class and a highly qualified teacher to teach the class.”
Chinese-American social influence has increased drastically in recent years, too, particularly in areas of pop culture. Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, a memoir of a high profile Chinese American woman, has become a national bestseller. In addition, Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club, is taught in the junior level World Lit class at DHS. The Joy Luck Club is a novel that discusses the blending of Chinese and American culture.
In Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Chua documents many of her parenting techniques that she used to raise her two daughters. It describes how she gave her children a traditional, strict and “Chinese” upbringing.
Senior Crystal Chen, whose parents came to the United States from China to attend university, said that Chua’s book was misunderstood after it received criticism from book reviewers and parents alike.
“Chua’s book wasn’t supposed to be controversial,” Chen said. “It was a memoir. It wasn’t about how one type of parenting is better than the other.”
Chen said that while her parents are strict, they ultimately have her best interests in mind. Chen is not allowed to do certain things with friends – such as sleepovers during the school year – but is happy her parents act the way they do.
“There are more important things than just having a social life,” Chen said. “Their intentions are good.”
Junior Lulu Wang – who moved to the United States from China when he was three – does not speak fluent Chinese, and considers the language to be difficult to learn. Wang said that because Chinese is a graphic language, meaning that each character is a picture with a different meaning, it is difficult for English speakers to become fluent.
“I try to speak Chinese at home, but it is hard for me even though my parents speak it,” Wang said.
With dedication, however, English-speakers can learn the language, Wang added.
“Learning Chinese takes more commitment,” he said. “But it is an important language to learn for business purposes.”