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More non-Asian students in U.S. schools learn Chinese at weekends

Americans Born Chinese, non-Chinese student, learning Chinese

From the mid- to late 90s, I endured Saturday morning Chinese school the way many of my fellow children of immigrants did: with a healthy a mix of indifference and resentment. While my non-Chinese friends spent their mornings at youth soccer games, I was stuck inside a heritage school classroom for at least two hours, practicing traditional characters and reading texts about buying bai tsai at the supermarket.

90年代中后期,我和其他移民子弟一样,带着怨气忍受着每周六去上中文课的"折磨"。当那些非华裔的小孩在踢足球玩耍时,我却要至少花两个小时的时间练习写中国字,朗读关于如何在超市买白菜的课文。

Chinese-heritage school, or "Saturday school," is a dedicated space for ABCs ("Americans Born Chinese") like myself to learn Mandarin and Chinese culture. In my own experience, it was simultaneously a hub of exclusion and inclusion. Days spent at heritage school were weekly reminders of my otherness in Thousand Oaks, the mostly white suburb of Los Angeles where I grew up.

这种中文学校亦被称为"周六学校"。这里是一个对于和我一样的ABC(在美国出生的华裔)们学习汉语和中国文化的专属地带。同时,这里对我来说还是个排斥与包容同在的节点。每周一次的课程让我不停地意识到自己是个"异类",尤其是在我所居住的千橡市——洛杉矶白人最多的地区。

But it was also one of the few settings where I was surrounded by people who looked like me. I remember only one non-Chinese student in the entire school: my friend Ashley, who was two years older than me but took the kindergarten-level classes out of interest, which I considered fascinating and weird.

但至少,这里是为数不多的,周围人都同我有着相似长相的地方。我印象中整个学校只有一个非华裔的学生,那就是我的朋友Ashley。虽然她长我两岁,但她出于兴趣来上这种幼儿园级别的中文课。当时的我觉得非常不可思议。

Some 20 years later, a face like Ashley's is becoming the norm in these classes.

不过,20年后的今天,类似Ashley面孔的学生成为了中文课堂的"新常态"。

When China's President Xi Jinping visited the White House in September, U.S. President Barack Obama announced the "One Million Strong" initiative to grow the number of K-12 students studying Mandarin from approximately 200,000 to 1 million by 2020.

去年9月,中国国家主席习近平来访美国,奥巴马总统提出一项名为"百万强"的倡议。倡议旨在于2020年前,将幼儿园至12年级的学习中文普通话的学生数量从当前的20万提高到100万。

Increasing the number of Mandarin speakers fivefold in less than five years is an ambitious goal. And it carries with it a sense of urgency for the U.S., given China's rise as the world's second-largest economy, and the paucity of Mandarin language learners in the states compared with the estimated 300 to 400 million English learners in China. One survey, published in state-run newspaper China Daily, indicated that 47 percent of Chinese students are exposed to English learning materials between the ages of 3 and 6.

在不到5年时间里将中文学习者数量提高5倍,这是个雄心勃勃的目标。这显示了美国的一种紧迫感,特别是当中国已成为世界第二大经济体之时。此外,相比于在中国的3、4亿英语学习者来说,在美国懂中文的人实在是太缺乏了。根据中国官方媒体《中国日报》调查,47%的中国学生在3到6岁时就已经开始学习英文了。

Carola McGiffert, the president and CEO of 100,000 Strong, said, "the fact is we're not doing our part to make sure that our young people are ready to compete in this global economy where China plays a huge, growing role. We're not preparing them well enough to manage the most consequential bilateral relationship on the political, diplomatic, and security side."

"百万强"主席及首席执行官柯罗拉•麦吉弗特表示,"中国在全球经济中扮演着一个愈加强大的角色,但事实上,之前我们并没有尽力来确保我们的年青一代从容以对。在面对这个在政治、外交、安全等各领域都最为重要的双边关系时,我们没能使年轻人对此准备充足。"

The effort to incorporate Chinese culture and language programs into U.S. schools has faced some opposition. But formalized programs are popping up across the country: Indiana will roll out its first publicly funded Mandarin immersion program next year in the city of Batesville, of which Asians make up less than 2 percent.

将中国文化和中文课程纳入美国校园也遭受到了阻力。但其实许多其他形式赞助的课程也在全国涌现。印第安纳州贝茨维尔将于明年开启一项公众资助的中文课程。而在这个地区,亚裔只占总人口的不到2%。

Participation among high-schoolers in the Advanced Placement Chinese exam has surged 257 percent since 2007, although it's still minuscule when compared with the number of students taking AP Spanish. Of those who took the Chinese exam in 2015, 21 percent studied the language primarily in the classroom, not by speaking it at home with their families.

参加美国大学预修课程中文考试的学生从2007年起至今已增长了257%。虽然这相对于选择西班牙语考试的学生数量来说还很少。但2015年参与中文考试的学生中,有21%并非从自己家庭学习中文,而是专门前往中文课堂学习。

Jaime Ocon, 17, a senior at Westlake High in Westlake Village, California. Jaime started studying Mandarin at age 11 at the urging of his father, James, in L.A.'s San Fernando. He was the only Latino student there, and later studied independently with a Beijing-based tutor via Skype. James struggled to get Jaime out of bed for an extra day of school on the weekends, resorting to a tried-and-true parenting strategy: bribery.

17岁的吉米•奥康是加州西湖村西湖高中的一名学生。吉米11岁时在父亲詹姆斯的建议下开始学习中文。他的父亲曾在洛杉矶参加中文课程,当时他是班上唯一一名拉丁裔学生。后来他又通过网络电话Skype向一名在北京的辅导老师继续学习。詹姆斯每周末都很费劲地将儿子拖出被窝去上课,后来他采用了一种行之有效的教导方法:贿赂。

"I told him, 'I'll increase your allowance and give you extra perks,'" James said. "'Just stick with it—start getting some characters.'"

"我告诉他,我会多给你零花钱。坚持下去,试着学写一些汉字。"詹姆斯说。

Jaime, a second-generation Mexican American whose first language is Spanish, supplemented his learning with summer trips to Beijing and Shanghai. On the AP exam's scale of one to five, he scored a four and recently got a job as a liaison for Chinese clients at a tech company.

作为第二代墨西哥移民的吉米,母语是西班牙语。他参加了去北京和上海的夏令营来促进中文学习。在一项满分为5分的中文考试中,他取得了4分。最近他还找到一份在科技公司联络中国客户的工作。

He said, "it's gotten to the point where my Chinese is better than my Spanish." His younger sister, Charlize, just got her first Mandarin textbook; she's 9.

他说。"坦白地说,我的中文比我的西班牙语都要好。"他的妹妹,9岁的夏丽姿,现在也开始学中文了。

Jaime might be an outlier among his friends, but he's part of the country's newfound urgency for the Joneses to keep up with the Chens. The trend can be seen at heritage schools themselves, where even the administrations are no longer exclusively Chinese. Westside Chinese School appointed its first white principal, John McGlasson, this year. McGlasson, whose wife is also not Chinese, first got involved with Westside when his 12-year-old son Jack started studying there six years ago.

吉米在他的朋友中可能显得很特立独行。但他的事例可以说是这个国家的一种新趋势。这种改变在中文学校里就能体现,这些学校的管理层甚至都不是清一色的的华裔了。加州南部最老的中文学校,西区中文学校今年任命了它第一任白人校长约翰•麦格拉森。麦格拉森的妻子也并非华裔。他与学校结缘是因为6年前,他们12岁的儿子杰克开始在该学校上中文课。

And while McGlasson estimates that up to 15 percent of Westside's 340 students are of non-Chinese descent, he insists that the school is, ultimately, for students of Chinese heritage. "We don't want the school to just cater to non-Chinese heritage students," McGlasson said.

虽然据麦格拉森估算,西区学校目前340名学生中有15%并非华裔。但他坚持认为学校还是应以华裔为主。"我们不会刻意迎合非华裔学生。"

If heritage schools aren't catering, they are adapting.

虽然中文学校并不迎合他人,但也在做适度调整。

At my old Saturday school, students are now divided into three tracks: "A" and "B" for students with at least one parent who is a native speaker, and "C" for non-heritage speakers. The school's principal, Li Hsieh, estimated that of the 600 students enrolled, almost 15 percent are not of Chinese descent, and less than 5 percent are not of Asian descent. Compare this to the 300 students, less than 1 percent of whom were of non-Chinese descent.

在我幼年时所上的那所学校里,现在的学生们被分为三组。A、B组的学生至少有一名家长是母语为中文,而C组是非华裔学生。学校校长谢立估算,在600名现有学生中,15%为非华裔,不到5%为非亚裔。而我当年上学时,300名学生中只有不到1%为非华裔。

Hsieh, a former Saturday school teacher, said the growing enrollment has made it difficult to accommodate students in the classrooms they rent from the local high school. There's talk of building a brick-and-mortar school or cultural center in the area. Gone are the textbooks published abroad and filled with stories of riding the subway in Taipei or shopping for Chinese vegetables. Instead, the school now uses locally published texts that reference scenarios more familiar to American teenager. The school has expanded its elective offerings to include kung fu, tennis, ballet, chess, and, yes, AP Chinese prep.

曾是"周六学校"教师的谢立表示,学校从当地高中租来的教室无法容纳日益增多的学生,因此他正在磋商在该地建立自有学校或文化中心。那些内容尽是在台北坐地铁或购买中国蔬菜的国外教材不见了。取而代之的是由当地出版的,更贴近美国青少年生活的课本。该学校还开设了中国功夫、网球、芭蕾舞、象棋等课程,当然还有大学预修课程中文考试辅导班。

On the track-C kindergarten-level class, about a third of the students are not Asian. "Mandarin is the language of the future," they tell me, recalling their own experiences where they've had to travel to China for business or learn the language to communicate better with co-workers. They hope to give their kids an added edge—the earlier, the better. For some students, like 6-year-old Juan-Isidro Martelli, it's a third or fourth language; he's also learning Spanish and German from his Argentinian parents.

在C组幼儿园级别课堂上,我们发现三分之一的学生都不是亚裔。"中文是未来必备的语言。"这些学生的父母告诉我。他们去过中国做生意,需要学习中文以更好地和工作伙伴交流。他们希望自己的孩子能增加这项优势,而且越早越好。对于6岁的马塔立来说,中文已经是他学的第3或第4种语言了。他同时还向他的阿根廷裔父母学习西班牙语和德语。

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2016-06-21

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