By Erin Alexis Goldman
Arts & Entertainment Editor
It is official. China has surpassed the U.S. to become the world’s largest economy, according to the International Monetary Fund. This comes right on the heels of what Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba Group and China’s richest man, said to CNBC as his company’s shares began trading on the New York Stock Exchange: “We want to be bigger than Wal-Mart.” According to a recent Forbes article, Ma’s wish will come true – soon.
As China’s economic power grows, so will the U.S. relationship with the country. “China’s business is going to be huge, and if you know Chinese, you will be ahead in your future career because you are going to get a lot more opportunities than other people who don’t know the language,” Hui-Ju Jea, Brookhaven College Chinese language professor, said. “In my class, I have quite a few students who want to major in international business and marketing, and that’s why they are taking Chinese. In every field, there will be something related to China, so if you know the language, you will benefit from it a lot.”
While thousands of public schools stopped teaching foreign languages in the last decade, a trend has “educators and policy makers abuzz: a rush by schools in all parts of America to offer instruction in Chinese,” according to a 2010 New York Times article by Sam Dillon. The Chinese Advanced Placement exam was first instituted in 2007, when Chinese passed German as the third most tested AP language after Spanish and French, according to the 10th Annual AP Report to the Nation.
Brookhaven 50+ student Claudette Hoffman is taking Beginning Chinese I online. She said that in places she has worked and studied, Chinese colleagues always tried to teach her the language, but moving beyond the basics proved difficult. “With the world as global as it is and China playing a greater role in business, politics and science, it seems almost essential to at least have an understanding of what the language is all about,” Hoffman said.
China’s global influence was echoed by Angel Mario Gonzalez, a Brookhaven student taking the I n t e r m e d i a t e Chinese I Hybrid course. “China is the most populated country in the world, so people who learn Chinese are able to communicate with more than a billion people,” Gonzalez said. “Also, from a business perspective, there are many opportunities to do business in China or with a Chinese corporation, and knowing the language opens the door in that sense.”
Jea also uses the class to teach about Chinese culture. Gonzalez said Jea’s teaching style differs from other language courses she has taken. “Not only does she teach the language well, but she also teaches cultural aspects,” Gonzalez said. “While taking the class, I have been exposed to writing Chinese characters with a brush, eating real Chinese food and celebrating their holidays.”
In spite of the numerous positive arguments for students to learn Chinese, students may be intimidated by the language’s characters and its substantial differences from English. However, Jea said handwritten characters are out of date, and she has students type out the words phonetically and then choose the correct characters from a list. “I want students to know that they don’t need to be intimidated by the writing strokes,” she said. “As long as they can say it and type out the letters, then they can communicate with people.”