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Schools Find Chinese Teachers in Short Supply


From primary schools to universities, educators are scrambling to add Chinese language programs to their curriculum. And as Marjorie Sun reports, they are running into a big problem.

Jung Nai Fung(ph) is a Mandarin teacher at San Francisco's private Chinese American International School. She is getting this ethnically diverse group of third graders ready to discuss the city's 1906 earthquake.

Ms. JUNG NAI FUNG (Teacher): (Foreign language Spoken)

MARJORIE SUN reporting:

Mandarin teachers like Jung are in high demand these days, but they are in short supply. Michael Levine is an education expert at the Asia society. He says if five percent of high school students will be taking Mandarin nine years from now…

Mr. MICHAEL LEVINE (Executive Director, National Campaign for International Education in the Schools, The Asia Society): We would need between 5,000 and 7,000 Chinese language teachers. We are only at about 10 percent capacity right now. We need to ramp up quickly.

SUN: Experts cite a variety of reasons for the teacher shortage. Andrew Corcoran is head of the Chinese American International School.

Mr. ANDREW CORCORAN (Head, Chinese American International School): Part of is because there hasn't been a demand until recently. There hasn't been a career opportunity that people would consider. And now all of a sudden it's become the discipline du jour.

SUN: Corcoran says in the short term hiring teachers from overseas is a major part of the solution. The Chinese government is eager to cooperate. Nearly a decade ago, it set up an agency known as Hanban that's devoted solely to teaching Chinese as a foreign language.

(Soundbite of Chinese music)

Hanban is opening a handful of cultural centers around the country called Confucius Institutes, with classes in Mandarin. At the University of Kansas earlier this month, Chinese-born musicians performed at the grand opening of the latest institute in the U.S.

Ms. SUJIN JUNG(ph) (Chinese Counselor General): (Foreign language Spoken)

SUN: Chinese Counselor General Suing Jung said they'll help to strengthen the friendship and understanding between the two countries. Hanban also is helping to find Chinese instructors to teach Mandarin in the U.S., and other countries. Last year, 6,000 Chinese candidates applied for about 70 slots worldwide. One of them went to Kentucky. She is doing a great job, says Jacqueline Van Houten, who spearheads Kentucky's Mandarin program for grades K through 12.

Ms. JACQUELINE VAN HOUTEN (President, Kentucky Council of Teachers of Foreign Languages): This teacher who has come to us from China has gone around the state to talk to various school districts and promote the learning of Chinese language. She has had great success with it, and we already have five different districts that want to begin programs.

SUN: More Chinese teachers are on the way. Last month, the College Board signed a new initiative with Hanban to bring more Chinese teachers to American classrooms. A variety of online Mandarin courses also are springing up to fill the teacher gap. But teachers from China can't solve American schools' staffing problems forever, says Corcoran of the Chinese American International School. Obtaining long-term visas and state certification rules make it hard for foreigners to teach in the U.S. So the best solution has to be home grown, Corcoran says.

Mr. CORCORAN: College education and universities that are teaching teachers are going to have to really restructure themselves to meet that demand.

RUBY(ph): (Foreign language spoken)

SUN: But back in Chinese class, nothing is going to stop third grader Ruby from mastering her Mandarin. The sweet-faced blonde, dressed in a springy T-shirt and pants, is practicing a speech about owning a dog. Someday she might be using her language skills as a diplomat or to cut a business deal in China. She is one of only about 24,000 American kids now studying Mandarin. In China, more than 200 million children are learning English.

For NPR News, I'm Marjorie Sun, in San Francisco. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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