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A growing number recognize that it will be a crucial skill for competing in the global marketplace.

  • | Posted: October 7, 2011 at 12:01 AM

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Why Black People Are Learning Chinese
Damon Woods (top row, third from left) with colleagues (Courtesy of Damon Woods)

When Zuri Patterson, a second-grader, entered her new classroom the first day of school, butterflies traveled the length of her stomach right before she made formal introductions to her new classmates.


"We say Ni Hao [pronounced "nee-how"], which means "hello" in Chinese," said the 7-year-old attending the Washington Yu Ying Public Charter School, a Mandarin-immersion school in the northeast quadrant of the nation's capital.


The second-grader's mother, Qwanda Patterson, an international traveler, told The Root, "We plan to take her to China on her 10th birthday. When I travel to Europe or Africa, everyone speaks at least two languages. Why can't we?"


In today's economic climate, in which black unemployment is in the double digits, one way to give the next generation of black graduates a competitive edge is to think outside one's borders -- more globally -- and learn Mandarin Chinese. Today's black graduates aren't competing only with their white American counterparts anymore. The landscape has changed radically in a relatively short span of time. Black graduates must now compete with their cohorts from places like China.


The past few decades have made Zuri's first day of school a familiar scene across the nation for many students of color living in urban areas like the District of Columbia, where black students make up about half of the children enrolled in the Washington Yu Ying Public Charter School.

Earlier this year, Michelle Obama gave a speech at Howard University urging students to take advantage of study-abroad programs as part of President Obama's "100,000 Strong" Initiative, which seeks to increase and diversify the number of U.S. students studying in China.


Chinese-language immersion programs have been on the rise for more than a decade. The Yu Ying immersion school is the first of its kind in the District, but compared with cities like New York and Chicago, D.C. is lagging behind the national trend.  

Interest in Chinese has risen in the past several years. According to a USA Today report, Chinese-language programs are in demand and now available "in more than 550 elementary, junior high and senior high schools, a 100 percent increase in two years [across the nation]."


Why China Matters


So why the emphasis on Chinese? Let's start with China's status as an up-and-coming superpower, and the fact that it's the world's most populous country (more than 1 billion people, 20 percent of the world's population), with a steadily growing middle class.

At the moment China is the biggest importer of oil. It is also one of the biggest business partners of the U.S., if not the biggest. And China holds around $1 trillion worth of U.S. Treasury bonds.

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Forget about learning French. Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Spanish are the keys to employment success here and abroad.


And despite the severe recession here in the U.S., you never hear anything complaint wise about it from the Chinese, Koreans or Japanese because they continue to prosper without missing a beat.


Their system for success truly works.

When are the workers going to figure out that competing each other to death is not the solution?


Compete for jobs to manufacture garbage but not know enough about technology to know that it is garbage and waste time watching commercials trying to brainwash us into buying the junk.  But then our brilliant economists can't even talk about the depreciation of five decades of trash.


Sorry people but that system can't work indefinitely.



So what stopped everybody from concentrating on NET WORTH 30 years ago?


We ask little kids what do they want to BE when they grow up, like you are your job.  Look at some of the surnames from European culture, Farmer, Carpenter.  You are your job.  A job is a way to get income but decisions can be made afterward.


What is consumerism about?  What is with banks sending out credit cards and bills saying you don't have to pay one month if you have been paying in advance?  They want us in debt.  The trouble is we don't think beyond jobs.



I don't know about that Vox. There are several Chinese people who work with me and they all say that there is no language called "Chinese". That is like saying that we speak "American". Although its understood that English is the official language of America and hence to speak American is to speak English, the fact remains that  "American" is not part of the global linguistic family and neither is "Chinese".

Originally Posted by Temporary Vox:

I've heard the same thing you have, Noah.  But from reading lately, there is such a thing as "Modern Standard Chinese."  It's rendered as "現代標準漢語" in Chinese, while the word Mandarin is rendered as "官话."  I hate to reference Wikipedia, but see the following:  And


Like I said before, I suspect this phrase, "Modern Standard Chinese," has arisen out of political motivations.  China is on a major push to unify a "one China" kind of attitude.  They're settling ethnic Han Chinese people all over the mainland.  Linguists consider "Chinese" to be a family of languages (which includes Mandarin), but China opposes that characterization, preferring to consider it a language within which Mandarin is a dialect.  It makes sense that they're probably attempting to standardize the language and refer to it as "Chinese."  20 years ago, you would've been right, but government policies there are changing the terminology. 


That's good knowledge that I did not know about. I just went off what Chinese people told me. I googled it little too because Wikipedia is a user updated web site and the information is always being revised. What I learned from googling is that China is trying to create ONE LANGUAGE (Standard Chinese) out of many different languages/dialects to unite the country.....and of those many different languages......none were called "Chinese". As it stands, if you take a class in the US you will be taught Manderin, which is the official language of China.

Originally Posted by Temporary Vox:

The Wikipedia page said the "Modern Standard Chinese" is based on the Beijing dialect of Mandarin.  I guess if there are that many languages (Mandarin, Cantonese, etc) and that many dialects within them, it makes sense to try to create a cohesive "one language" situation.  Interesting. 

I agree......I thought Manderin was what the vast majority of the people speak...but based upon the information you presented...its not. Live and Learn I guess.

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