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Chinese Language Expands In Public Schools

Some Central Ohio school districts are expanding foreign language classes to prepare students for the global marketplace. The expansion is a recommendation from a committee set up by the Ohio Legislature. School leaders in Gahanna and Columbus think the investment is vital in the 21st century.

In Columbus City Schools the new International High School extends the Chinese language program through 12th grade. Chinese is also taught at Fifth Avenue International in K through 6th grades. 7th and 8th grades will be added next year. Principal Ameer Kim El-Mallawany says world languages are a crucial part of learning in the 21st century.

"To be successful in this world today and to be able to get the kinds of opportunities that our kids really deserve they need to be able to speak other languages and be able to connect and really understand the way that the world is getting smaller," said El-Mallawany.

Teacher Yan Xun is from China. She says her students have learned a lot since school started.

"When they came they didn't know anything. And the first question was. How come Chinese people didn't have alphabets and why Chinese people didn't do this? You know just like very ego-centric. And after four months, it's amazing like now not only do they speak so well, they can read and write," said Xun.

World Languages Consultant at the Ohio Department of Education, Ryan Wertz says Mandarin Chinese programs are becoming more widespread in Ohio school districts. He says a foreign language advisory council set up by the state legislature in 2007, recommended the expansion of more foreign languages, but tight budgets have prevented the state from contributing money to make that happen. In 7 years, the number of students taking Mandarin Chinese has jumped from 467 to close to 9 thousand. Wertz explains why the demand is growing. "We're really seeing growth in the import/export sectors here in Ohio in terms of our businesses doing business with China and in terms of importing goods from China," explained Wertz.

In Franklin County, 8 school districts and several charter schools offer Chinese, some of them through an online-teaching program.

Wertz adds other languages like Arabic, Japanese, Russian and Somali are also gaining ground in some Ohio schools.

Students at Gahanna Lincoln High School practice speaking Mandarin Chinese. It's the fourth year the district has offered the Chinese language. International Language Coordinator, Rae Harriott-White, says the district is aware businesses need more workers fluent in foreign languages.

"There's an immediate need by businesses that work internationally to have persons who are bilingual or multilingual who can really communicate easily within English and Mandarin Chinese," said Harriott-White. Harriott-White adds that the Gahanna Jefferson District was awarded a $1.2 million federal grant over five years to develop the Chinese language program. It was one of only 2 school districts in Ohio and 22 nationwide to get a grant.

Chinese teacher Mike Kralovic has been teaching since the program started four years ago with 45 students. Today more than 300 students from 2nd through 12th grades study Chinese in Gahanna schools.

"You have some students that really get the writing they can see it and can mentally focus on that. Then you have other students that really get the speaking," explained Kralovic.

Kravolic says some of his former students are either studying Chinese as their major in college or majoring in International business to focus on China. Some critics don't think the focus should be on Chinese. They say that Spanish is easier for Americans to learn because it has an alphabet like English where Chinese uses characters to write words. Kravolic understands why some people may be critical about new languages now offered in Ohio schools.

"I've heard of school districts where maybe French was taken away because Chinese was being pushed and there's a lot of grants out there and funding and in this current economy and current state with government a lot of the schools are looking to add something without having that expense and Chinese happens to be one of those options," said Kralovic.

Students Michael Watkins of Columbus and Jassmine Mitchell of Gahanna both see language studies as benefiting their future careers. Watkins wants to be an International lawyer and Mitchell aspires to a business career. "I think learning these different languages will allow me to be able to succeed in that wish for me," said Watkins.

"I want to be in business and using business, doing business with Chinese people that will be one of the biggest things," said Mitchell.