WEB EXCLUSIVE: Popularity of studying Chinese surges at universities nationwide

Amanda Garrett

Colleges are adding Chinese courses to their rosters as the popularity of studying the language surges nationwide.

From 1998 to 2003, students studying Chinese increased by 20 percent, according to a survey by the Modern Language Association.

Universities are seeing significant increases in the number of freshmen who want to take second or third year Chinese, according to Inside Higher Ed, an online publication that focuses on higher education issues.

Kent State only offers two courses in elementary and intermediate Chinese, but the university is thinking about adding a special topics course in Chinese, Professor Wendy Chiang said.

There are 24 students in the elementary class and 14 in the intermediate class, Chiang said.

“There are many different majors in this class,” she said. “Some students like Chinese philosophy and they want to study the language for that reason. Others are studying it for business reasons or because they are interested in Chinese culture. There are also some people who just want to fulfill the second-language requirement.”

In the last decade, as China has become a world power, interest in China and its language and culture have increased in the West, History Professor Hongshan Li said.

China is increasingly becoming a major international player and a regional leader in Southeast Asia,” he said. “China is also an important player in the world economy. It has some of the largest factories in the world.”

Kent State teaches Mandarin Chinese, which is the state language of China. Although there are many different dialects of Chinese, most native speakers can understand Mandarin, Chiang said.

The most difficult part of Chinese for most students is learning to read the characters, Chiang said. The key to learning the characters is to remembering the symbols, Chiang said.

“Every word that has something to do with water will have the water symbol in it,” she said. “So if you see that symbol you can guess that the word has something to do with water.”

“In Taiwan, it is very difficult to get into the university, but once you get in, it’s easy to get out,” she said. “In America, it is very easy for students to get into college, it is sometimes hard for them to graduate.”

Contact academic affairs reporter Amanda Garrett at [email protected].