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Why the push for Mandarin? Are we nuts?

Original post made by anonymous, Barron Park, on Dec 29, 2006

Why the push to learn Mandarin or any form of Chinese in PAUSD?

In China, everyone who is in business is furiously trying to learn English. In Germany they're requiring English in order to graduate high school. They're doing this because English is the language of commerce worldwide.

What kind of jobs will require Mandarin or Cantonese in the future?

If we're deciding to inflict Chinese on our children for some other reason than making a living, what is it? Why would be trying to learn the languages of a country where 51 percent of the people live on farms? Where those who practice certain religions are arrested and imprisoned? Where children are put to work in sweatshops? Where the illiteracy rate of women is five times that of men? Where the state forces abortions on parents who have already had a child?

I understand the desire of my fellow Palo Altans to appear trendy and cutting edge, but this is just stupid -- and I hate to waste scarce school district resources even investigating such a crazy thing.

Comments (14)

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Posted by DW
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 29, 2006 at 1:36 pm

A couple of people that have lucked into seats on the board, and one or two people that have ample financial resources and a private agenda are cooking up a big ole batch of toasted nuts for us all to munch on.

I'll pass, I'm allergic to stupid ideas.


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Posted by College Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 29, 2006 at 6:00 pm

I am beginning to wonder this myself. I read a great couple of articles in the Christmas Economist double issue. There is one thing that the non-English speaking world have which is an advantage over us, the English speaking majority. That is, that they know undoubtedly which language to learn as a second language. For the rest of us, that is a much more difficult choice. I myself having a student graduated out of PAUSD and now in College, would rather that English be taught as a compulsory subjecty to all of our High Schoolers. If this sounds strange to you, then you should see the average PAUSD high schoolers' attempt to write a coherent business letter in their own handwriting and without the benefit of a spellchecker or grammar checker. I am constantly amazed at the way my college student writes a proper letter or note, and how she answers the phone or speaks to adults or strangers. Am I the only one who thinks this?


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Posted by John
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 29, 2006 at 6:18 pm

My vote is for ENGLISH immersion!

We have raised a generation of semi-functional namby pambies, who feel entititled to immerse themselves in self discovery. Why?

They should, at least, be able to master the English language.


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Posted by Tulley
a resident of El Carmelo School
on Dec 30, 2006 at 9:02 am

Finally, some common sense! Another immersion suggestion I have is "real life immersion", as in how to balance a checkbook, read a credit card statement (those finance charges really do add up!), invest your savings (that would, of course mean teaching the value of saving).
I am amazed that it's taken for granted that college freshmen will be taking remedial english and math, that they haven't a clue about the danger of credit cards, and that they think that they can write papers using "instant message" language.
The greatest gift this district can give to it's students is to stick to the basics, and then add more "real life basics" to the mix.


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Posted by LK
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 30, 2006 at 9:05 pm

Why not Latin immersion? They'll use it about as often as Mandarin


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Posted by anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 2, 2007 at 3:15 pm

my 3 favorite reasons to learn Chinese, from:
Web Link

- An official language of the United Nations, Chinese is the most widely spoken first language in the world, extending beyond the People's Republic of China and Taiwan to Indonesia , Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, to the Philippines, and to Mongolia.

- Chinese will top English as the most-used language on the Internet by 2007, according to forecasts by the World Intellectual Property Organization.

- China 's political importance in the Asia-Pacific region is broadly acknowledged and, particularly since 9/11, its help has been sought on difficult issues like North Korea and terrorism. Collaboration with China is increasingly deemed essential for solving a range of global issues, from nuclear proliferation to the environment, from currency exchange to trade laws.


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Posted by Andrea
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 2, 2007 at 4:59 pm

Anon, the good news for you is that there are many private school programs where your children can learn Chinese if you think it's a great idea. But today's Mercury says that there are 200 million students in China learning English, so perhaps the best path for our children is to become proficient in English so that we can keep up. I think our public schools in America have a way to go on that score.


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Posted by anon
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 2, 2007 at 8:37 pm

How is it "keeping up" if they are learning 2 languages in China and we are learning one. It sounds like we are behind to me, we do have a way to go on that score.


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Posted by JT
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 2, 2007 at 11:54 pm

the opening comment is the tired, old "everybody speaks English, why do we have to learn another language" refrain.

Is it any wonder why Americans are often considered insular and ignorant of other countries' cultures, with such an attitude?

Yes - many Chinese in China are learning English, as those who can master it can earn more income and it opens up opportunities. However, not all of them may be proficient enough to express themselves well, either orally or in written form.

It is always advantageous to know another language - it opens up communication. I have pretty much made a living from being bilingual in Chinese and English - having worked in East Asia for many years, living in the PRC, Taiwan and Hong Kong. It helps a lot, and believe me, people do appreciate it if you speak to them in their language.


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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 4, 2007 at 2:01 pm

"...people do appreciate it if you speak to them in their language" -- Maybe. Perhaps. Sometimes.

Owing to cultural practice differences and in some cases, strong ethnic differences, I question whether local kids here learning a foreign language here will be just like locals when they grow up and go off to negotiate their big business deals in another country.

Speaking of a particular region of the world: natives can almost always tell the difference between other native speakers and those who are from another place and "trying" isn't always practical.I don't know if this is true everywhere, but I would guess it to be the case, and don't know what advantage one gets by sticking out, or sticking out oddly.


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Posted by Simon Firth
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 4, 2007 at 2:26 pm

I agree with you JT, so let's find a way to offer language education for all in Palo Alto instead of spending time and energy (and the money of parents lucky enough to win a 'choice' place) on a program that offers it to 5% of our students.



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Posted by JT
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 9, 2007 at 6:00 pm

Well Simon, I'd agree, but if you can get funding for everything going, it may be more difficult. It may be better to try something out first as an experimental program. Politics is the art of the possible. Given the battles for budgets for even a small program, I think we should start with that first.


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Posted by JT
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 9, 2007 at 6:06 pm

"Owing to cultural practice differences and in some cases, strong ethnic differences, I question whether local kids here learning a foreign language here will be just like locals when they grow up and go off to negotiate their big business deals in another country."

This comment is a strawman statement. First of all, learning a foreign language by itself is never sufficient in itself to understand the cultures associated with it. GB Shaw has famously characterised the US and Britain as two countries divided by a common language (and Americans who go off to live in Britain get more culture shock than anticipated because they are fooled by the common language).

That said, it is easier for an individual who has a grasp of the language of a certain country to better understand the culture. Look, Taiwanese and HK Chinese have to make adjustments when they go into the PRC to do business. But they're proabably better able to make these adjustments than someone with no knowledge of the language.

Look, no one is saying that instant knowledge is going to happen. And the benefits are not limited to commerce, but international affairs at the national level as well.


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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 9, 2007 at 6:21 pm

Chinese in its various forms is never going to become the international language of commerce. Between its being a tonal language and its thousands of ideograms, it's simply not practical for business on an international scale. English with its simple grammar, standard alphabet and lack of inflections and tones is simply easier to acquire. India is a perfect example of this--there are, I think, 17 official languages. English is no one's first language, but it's everyone's second.


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