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Why teach Chinese?
Chinese culture has long enjoyed global recognition, and speaking Chinese is fast becoming a vital tool in doing business and developing political relations. One-sixth of the world's population speaks Chinese. According to federal and state curriculum standards, high school students are required to complete two years of foreign language study. So, why not Chinese?

Facts About Chinese

  • There are more than a billion speakers of Chinese around the world, including a substantial population in the United States.
  • The Chinese writing system is one of the very few independently invented writing systems in all of human history. It dates back at least to the 3,000 BCE.
  • An astounding number of Chinese texts written in even the earliest periods have been transmitted to the present.
  • For many periods during its history, China was the most culturally, economically, technologically, and scientifically dominant nation in East Asia, where the Chinese writing system was widely learned and taught and Chinese characters were incorporated into the native writing systems of nations stretching from Japan to Vietnam.
  • Chinese culture has long enjoyed global recognition. In recent years this recognition has included the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Literature to Gao Xingjian; the growing familiarity with Peking opera; the widespread influence of films such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or Farewell My Concubine; and the hosting of the 2008 summer Olympics.

How Difficult is Chinese to Learn?

  • Chinese shares very little vocabulary with European languages. Speakers of these languages have to work harder than if they were learning another European language. And even though Chinese shares vocabulary with several Asian languages (especially Korean, Japanese, and Vietnamese), this shared vocabulary is often difficult to recognize.
  • The writing system is definitely hard to learn, though there is nothing conceptually difficult about it; there is just a lot to memorize. Over 2000 characters must be learned to read a newspaper, over 10,000 characters for college-level literacy.
  • Chinese is a tone language. Different pitch patterns do not just add emotional color as they do in English. They actually distinguish one word from another.
  • Unlike many European languages, Chinese has no irregular verbs or noun plurals to learn, because words have only a single form, with no suffixes for tense, number, case, etc. (There are some particles which work somewhat like tense endings, but they always take the same form, no matter what they are added to.
  • Chinese speakers are usually tolerant of a foreigner's mistakes--perhaps because so many Chinese themselves speak standard Mandarin Chinese as a second language.

Chinese Language Study at the University of Michigan

  • Chinese language courses (Mandarin dialect) are taught through the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures. Beginning through advanced levels are offered including a series of courses aimed at heritage learners, topics courses geared toward pronunciation, using technology with Chinese language, and Business Chinese. Information about classes for high school students is available by contacting the main office 734 764 8286.

Finding Teachers

  • Visiting Chinese Teachers
    Several programs are available through which visiting teachers may come to a school for a period of one to three years. Two government-sponsored programs for visiting teachers are The China National Office for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language (commonly known as Hanban) and the Fulbright Teacher Exchange program of the US Department of Education.
  • Graduates of American university teacher preparation programs
    Chinese teacher education programs are small in number. Currently, in the state of Michigan, Wayne State University and Eastern Michigan University have K-12 certification programs for teaching Chinese.
  • Chinese native speakers who have or might obtain teaching credentials
    Chinese heritage community schools could provide teachers who could become certified teachers.

Finding Textbooks

  • Whether learning to write or speak Chinese, stories can be the cornerstone to effective teaching. For beginning students the U-M Lieberthal-Rogel Center for Chinese Studies suggests Getting Around in Chinese: Chinese Skits for Beginners by Hilda Tao. Additional books on writing characters and practicing grammar are also available. (see LRCCS Publications in Resources for ordering information, or contact LRCCS Outreach Coordinator)
  • Textbooks as a Resource. The College Board publishes teacher-generated reviews of various textbooks and other instructional resources.
  • Book Publishers. For Chinese language learning and more, see offerings distributed by China Books, Cheng & Tsui Co., and Cypress Books. For children's titles, China Sprout, Pacific View Press and Shen's Books.

Web Connections

  • Chinese Language Association of Secondary-Elementary Schools (CLASS) Provides a national network of information exchange, ideas, and curriculum resources.
  • Chinese Language Initiatives/A Newsletter, compiled by Asia Society A monthly news and event digest on Chinese language learning. To subscribe e-mail
  • Chinese Language Teachers Association Facilitates Chinese language acquisition and instruction, including the integration of non-textbook-specific national standards and serves as a provider of teacher training programs of both a pre-service and in-service nature.
  • Clavis Sinica (CV), “Key to the Chinese Language,” developed by University of Michigan, features reading and dictionary software (including an instant translation feature); a smartphone app that uses stroke animation for learning to write Chinese characters; customized vocabulary lists and flashcard sets; a web-based audio text reader; and a Chinese toolbox with flashcards, dictionary, tests and quizzes.
  • Learning Chinese Online, compiled by Tianwei Xie, CSU Long Beach
  • Provides information about online schools, pronunciation and grammar; supplies lists of Chinese schools, forums, tools for teachers, exchange clubs, and cultural exchanges, to name only a few of the many language-based topics covered at this site.
  • Marjorie Chan's China Links Annotated links to over six hundred China- and Chinese language and linguistics-related websites.
  • National Council of Less Commonly Taught Languages: CouncilNet Addresses communication and information for institutions and individuals interested in teaching and learning less commonly taught languages (LCTLs).
  • Online Learning Chinese Weblinks--See AP Chinese Language and Culture Teacher's Guide by Miao-Fen Tseng, University of Virginia, Charlottesville (College Board)