In the United States, an estimated 59,860 elementary and secondary students took Mandarin Chinese classes in 2008, an increase of 200 percent from 2004, according to the society. The number of Americans studying in China grew annually 30 percent from 2001 to 2007, according to the U.S. Department of State.
This fall, at least 300 students of all ages in the Knoxville area are studying Mandarin Chinese classes through public and private schools.
In Knox County schools, there are 92 students enrolled in Mandarin I and II this year, up from 79 last year, according to Knox County officials. Courses are offered at Hardin Valley Academy and Bearden High School.
Note that there are approximately 55,000 students in Knox County’s public school system as of 2012.
At the college level, both Pellissippi State Community College and the University of Tennessee offer Mandarin classes.
Pellissippi has a Confucius Classroom, funded by a grant through the Confucius Institute at the University of Memphis. It began in 2011, and offers four semesters of Mandarin, with 13 students….
UT Knoxville will have its own Confucius Institute by April 2013, according to university officials. There are about 70 institutes in the U.S., funded by grants from the Chinese government. They offer student exchange programs, non-credit and for-credit language classes and cultural events to the community.
Mandarin language classes have been popular at UT, with about 80 students enrolled this year.
“I’ve turned away some students because we’re not able to handle the demand,” said Jon LaCure, supervisor of the Chinese and Japanese program at UT. “We have three years (of Mandarin) and we want to add a fourth year next year. We’re in the process of hiring someone.”
Students who take Mandarin hope it will give them an edge in the job market, LaCure said.
“A lot of people are getting dual degrees in business and world languages,” he said. “With the Chinese economy growing eight percent this year, if you say, ‘I can also speak Chinese,’ it separates you from the rest of the applicants.”
And yet, some of the growth in local Mandarin classes stems from an increase in Chinese immigrants to the Knoxville area.
For example the East Tennessee Chinese School, sponsored by the East Tennessee Chinese Association, has grown from 70 to 90 students in the last five years, according to Dali Wang, school principal. Classes meet on Sundays at Pellissippi State, and most students are the children of Chinese immigrants.
Their parents want them to learn to read and write Chinese, and remember their heritage, Wang said. “Most of our students are children of Chinese, but we also have adopted children, and cross-cultural families too.”
Being bilingual helps children succeed, said Sophy Littrell, a native of Beijing, China, who teaches at the East Tennessee Chinese School. She is also starting a new Mandarin class for English-speaking children in Oak Ridge.
“In this country, the things we are using, from household items to high tech things, are from China. The Chinese are successful at doing business. They know what their customers need and target it, and make these things their customers like,” said Littrell.
“It’s pretty obvious, I think. People want to learn the language to be competitive.”