Schoolhouse Talk links to a story in the Columbia Missourian about 6th-grade public school students learning Chinese. The kids learned Chinese names and greetings, and ate Chinese food as part of a 12-week program:
“Our goal is to promote understanding between China and the United States," Wiedmeyer said. "Language is an important part of it. Currently Chinese is not included. So we would like to make Chinese language a regular part of public school curriculum in Columbia.”
Most public schools stick to a few languages, which usually include French, Spanish, and German. Broadening course offerings to include Chinese is a great idea. However, nobody can learn a foreign language in three months. This program is probably so limited because it’s a new idea, and traditional public schools are notoriously cautious about innovation. Compare the 12-week Chinese program with the French curriculum at this Kansas City charter school, which starts immersion in kindergarten. Charter schools have more freedom than traditional public schools to experiment and specialize, so they can start language instruction earlier. And lest you think charters just focus on the same handful of languages that have always been taught in high school, take a look at this Chinese language charter school in Massachusetts, where 75 percent of the 1st-grade curriculum is taught in Chinese. Here’s another Chinese-immersion charter school, this one in Minnesota. Other charter schools teach Arabic, Japanese, and Greek.
Exposing kids to Chinese is a nice idea, but if they really want to gain fluency, it would be wise to start a charter school around the theme.