From Washington Post by Ovetta Wiggins:
The Prince Georges County teacher lifted a foam object from an orange bucket in her lap and waited for someone in the kindergarten class to identify its shape. Not in English. Not even in Spanish. Instead, the answer came in another language gaining popularity in American classrooms.

Yuan xing! shouted a little girl in a blue-and-white uniform who wears tiny cornrows in her hair. Yuan xing! the others, sitting on the floor in front of the teacher, echoed in unison.

The lesson last week in Room 13 at Paint Branch Elementary School was part of a new effort to teach students Chinese language and culture throughout the day. The College Park school is believed to be the fourth public school in the Washington area to provide a Chinese immersion program. Many others, especially at the secondary level, have begun to offer Chinese courses in recognition of the economic and cultural importance of the worlds most populous nation.

I believe families are realizing that in order for their children to be competitive in the global workforce they will need to know Chinese, so [speaking Chinese] is seen as being a critical skill, said H. Yalan King, executive director of the Mandarin Institute, an organization in San Francisco that promotes Chinese language and culture education.

The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages recently found there were 59,860 Chinese language students in public schools in the 2007-08 school year, up from 20,292 in 2004-05.

The Chinese immersion program at Paint Branch, begun this school year, builds on a 4-year-old partnership with the Confucius Institute at the University of Maryland. Under that initiative, professors visit the school periodically to teach Chinese culture. Fifteen sixth grade students from the school each year have taken trips to China. In January, students from a sister school in Tianjin, China, visited Paint Branch.

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