Mandarin Vs. English: The Language of the Future

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“Some may protest that it is not English but Mandarin Chinese that will eventually become the world’s language, because of the size of the Chinese population and the increasing economic might of their nation,” McWhorter wrote. “But that’s unlikely. For one, English happens to have gotten there first. It is now so deeply entrenched in print, education and media that switching to anything else would entail an enormous effort… Also, the tones of Chinese are extremely difficult to learn beyond childhood, and truly mastering the writing system virtually requires having been born to it.”

While Chinese may remain the most spoken language on account of the large and growing native population that speaks it, English certainly isn’t going anywhere. One of the chief reasons is that it has cemented itself as the defining cosmopolitan language of our time. In a 2010 study, Gary Lupyan of the University of Pennsylvania and Rick Dale of the University of Memphis found data to suggest that as more and more non-native speakers learn a language, they inadvertently hack away at the extraneous edges. Over time, the language grows more streamlined and simple to learn. There’s no question that English has evolved considerably over the years. Just compare the flowing prose of John Adams and Abraham Lincoln to the simplified of Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.

One step back, two steps forward — How family affinity groups start conversations about race in schools

black-childrenI am a mixed-race black parent and educator whose children attend a majority Chinese-American public school in San Francisco. Recently I began hosting a Black Family Breakfast at my girls’ school for black and mixed-race families as part of a collaborative effort with the principal to “explore race and culture.”

For the past several years I have been an active school volunteer and I also serve on multiple parent leadership groups. Last year, an incident occurred where a Chinese-American student called a black student a racial slur. The situation was resolved quickly. Nonetheless, in talking about the need to address race and culture more proactively in our school, teachers suggested parents become involved in the process, as they often undermine educator efforts in shifting school culture.

So, inspired by these conversations and those with other black families, I decided to initiate an informal get-together to share support and resources to ensure our school is an even more welcoming place.

Surprise, Surprise… Folks “Get Concerned” When black people Get Together

To my surprise, my “great idea” of bringing black families together was not met with open arms by all staff. A few days after sending out invitations for our second meeting I learned some teachers were “voicing concerns” about our group. (?!) This happened even at a school with an enlightened and supportive principal! At this moment I realized there was still a LOT of work to be done.

What was all the hubbub about? The largest concern voiced by staff was that our group (also known as an “affinity group”) would be too “exclusive” and could potentially be seen as unfair by parents of other racial and cultural groups at the school.

As a black woman who is constantly having to navigate white (and Asian) spaces, I understand the importance of being able to “tell it like it is” in a room full of folks who “get it.” I also understand how important it is to be able to speak about my experience without having to worry about defensive reactions or #whitetears.

Moving Forward, Despite Discomfort

With support from the principal (which was KEY), I moved forward anyway. He decided to use the incident as a “teachable moment” and reminded staff that exploring race meant accepting the discomfort that invariably comes up. I offered to answer any questions staff had about the purpose of the group, and we both agreed that if staff felt other affinity groups should be formed, we would encourage and support them in doing so.

In an effort to support the principal, I also shared with him an article illustrating how affinity groups can support those who are often marginalized in schools. Even though the article was focused on students, I saw many benefits that translated to families as well (emphasis on mine), including:

“[Affinity groups] allow students who share an identity — usually a marginalized identity — to gather, talk in a safe space about issues related to that identity, and transfer that discussion into action that makes for a more equitable experience at school.”

Even though I experienced some initial pushback, I’m glad we moved forward anyway. After just a few days, it has been reaffirming to see the positive outcomes of moving forward DESPITE resistance.

First, it has become very clear that YES… our teachers actually NEED to talk about race. Even if it’s just exploring how they feel about talking about it. (A good first step, right?) I am also learning that this work is ESPECIALLY important in schools with language programs such as ours which has a bilingual Chinese pathway.

As a former high school and middle school teacher in both Oakland and San Francisco, I have roughly 20 years experience working in high-poverty, urban schools. In all my years as a teacher I have never had an option to NOT talk about race.

In contrast, at my daughters’ school, where half of the classrooms are bilingual Chinese, there are many experienced teachers who might never have never been confronted with issues of anti-black racism in their classrooms. They might never have taught black students or worked with black families, and thus have little exposure to black culture in general.

Additionally, there are no black folks on staff (as you may have guessed) and most of the teachers are Asian or white.

So, I’m realizing even though my daughters attend an urban, high-poverty school, I have to readjust my assumptions about teachers’ expected comfort level or knowledge about addressing race/culture with students and families. This might be even more true for Asian-Americans teaching in mostly Asian-American schools, because as people of color themselves, they might get “checked” less often on their own implicit biases and privileges by folks of other disenfranchised groups. (e.g. “I can’t be racist… I’m Asian!)

I am also learning how parents can start conversations among staff by indirectly taking action on their own behalf. In starting black family breakfasts, we didn’t ask anything of teachers. (It’s 100 percent parent initiated and supported!) Nonetheless, the conversation about whether we should or shouldn’t have a black family affinity group (or other affinity groups for that matter) has inspired more conversation about race and the need to create cultural visibility for underrepresented groups at our school.

I am now seeing people coming out of the woodwork to form an informal support network of change-makers committed to elevating  important conversations about equity and culture at our school. This has, in turn, led to a clearer purpose and resolve to push for change around how we celebrate our cultural differences and communicate with students, staff and families about race.

  • A teacher sought me out one morning to tell me how she’s been “fuming” about some of the ignorance and resistance of her teacher peers. The experience of listening to other staff voicing questions and concerns, is spurring her to speak up more to give a voice to our most underrepresented kids (including LGBT, Spanish-speaking, low-income, etc.).
  • Our literacy specialist and the school social worker have (on their own initiative) decided to take on the idea of creating a K-5 book talk curriculum for all teachers in the school addressing race and culture in the classroom. (WOHOOO!)
  • Our principal has committed to working with school staff to increase the number of books with main characters and authors of color in our school and classroom libraries. #WeNeedDiverseBooks!


Families Have Power to Drive Conversation in their School Communities

All of this has not directly been driven by families. Nonetheless, this dialogue would never be happening if black, Latino, Asian and white families hadn’t started the conversation last year.

As an active member of our school community, I believe there has always been agreement that we “should” talk about race. Nonetheless, over the past five years of my involvement, it has never been on the front burner. The fact that all this new activity is happening is a direct result of families starting the conversation. It’s one thing to have a principal make demands of staff (among all the other demands made of teachers each day.) It is quite another for parents and grandparents to make direct requests from teachers on behalf of their kids.

I am tired of feeling like the “angry black parent” every time I bring up the need to address race in our schools. Talking with other black families, and (Latinx, Asian, and white allies) I see I’m not alone. Together, we are making “requests” (aka: nice demands) of staff at our school to meet the needs of our children and families, such as:

  • ALL children deserve to see positive images of black culture in their curriculum and books. All children should see themselves and their peers represented.
  • In order for ALL our children to feel safe and valued at our school, teachers to TALK about race.
  • Underrepresented groups at our school need and deserve enhanced outreach and support.

Now that black parents and grandparents have an affinity group at our school, we no longer feel isolated and alone. The culture of silence is starting to shift. After five years of asking (and waiting for others to take initiative), we finally decided to start the conversation ourselves. Now our school community is moving out of the comfort zone — things are starting to change.

Reposted from


Ali Collins is an educator, parent organizer, and public school advocate living in the Bay Area. She writes about race, parenting and education on her blog SF Public School Mom. To read her musing on being a public school parent and educator, and to download resources to spur change at your child’s school, go to or connect with her via Twitter:, LinkedIn: or Facebook:


President Of 100,000 Strong Foundation Carola McGiffert Explains How Teachers Will Get 1 Million U.S. Students Learning Mandarin By 2020

Chinese Books

Can 1 million American schoolchildren learn Mandarin over the next five years? Carola McGiffert, the woman charged with the task, is betting on it.

In late September, President Barack Obama unveiled the 1 Million Strong initiative, which aims to increase the number of U.S. children learning Mandarin in school from 200,000 to 1 million by 2020. The announcement follows the launch of the 100,000 Strong Initiative in 2009, which successfully increased the number of Americans studying abroad in China to 100,000 since the program began — up from just 13,000 during the 2007-2008 school year.

McGiffert, president of the 100,000 Strong Foundation, which was formed in 2013 to oversee the eponymous initiative, is also leading the new 1 Million Strong push. The goal is to get 1 million children in grades K-12 on the path to learning Mandarin so they’ll gain an understanding of both the language and Chinese culture. We sat down with McGiffert to learn more about how she plans to take on this ambitious goal.

Give us a broad overview of this new initiative.

Last fall, President Obama announced that the 100,000 Strong student goal had been reached, but obviously, there’s much more work to do. When we learned that Chinese President Xi Jinping was coming for a state visit in September, we started working with the White House to figure out the next big goal, one that is ambitious but reachable and worthy of presidential attention.

Whether you’re a journalist, or a diplomat or a business person, we want to make sure that our young people in all of these fields have the ability to work with Chinese counterparts and competitors.

Why Mandarin? What’s the point?

The view right now is that the China-U.S. relationship is in a really tough place, and will be marked by contention for the foreseeable future. That means we need to learn how to manage it, collaborate where possible, and manage that discussion so that it does not spiral in a negative direction when our interests are different. Contention and competition is one thing, conflict is another, and we can’t go down that road.

The goal is to make sure there are young people who understand the strategic importance of this relationship and can work on those issues and understand the huge role that China plays in our economy.

When I heard about this initiative, the first question that popped into my mind was: Who is going to teach these Mandarin classes?

We rely heavily on the generous support of the Chinese government, which sends us hundreds of teachers every year. While we are deeply appreciative of this and want it to continue, it’s not enough. It’s never going to scale to be able to meet the demand. We will be working with organizations like ACTFL, the American Council On The Teaching Of Foreign Languages. This is what they do — they train and support the training of foreign language teachers.

I learned that you don’t have to be fluent in a language to be an effective language teacher.

Is that a good thing?

I think it’s a good thing, because it opens the door for more young Americans who are highly proficient. It creates opportunities for them to enter the teaching field in Mandarin. Perhaps they’re not teaching the most advanced classes. I think that’s one way to get a lot of young people right out of college and graduate school to be excited about becoming a teacher and using their Mandarin skills.

How are you going to decide where these teachers are placed?

A critical component of this is our network on the state and local level. We’re going to start with a handful of partner states where we can pilot this effort, both in terms of testing and implementing curriculum as well as teacher placement. We will be coming out with those states soon, but they’re geographically diverse, led by both Republicans and Democrats, often where the Mandarin language has already been noted as a priority in the school system.

How will you make sure these classes are equitably distributed among rich and poor school districts?

From the outset of this initiative, diversity has been a top priority. It has always been about not only increasing the number, but diversity, of young Americans who study abroad in China, and it’s the same for the language component — if not even more so. Frankly, the more affluent districts, particularly in suburban areas, they already have Chinese language classes, so the need is less there. I really do think that where we are value added is in underserved and underrepresented communities.

You’re trying to get 800,000 more K-12 students in Mandarin classes. Does that sound crazy to you? 

It sounds ambitious. It does not sound crazy to me. Any goal that’s worth having has to be big. We didn’t go into this sort of just picking a number out of thin air, even though 1 million sounds nice. We really did work with experts in the field in terms of K-12 Mandarin language learning, and feel very confident that if you bring all the right players and pieces together, we could make this happen.

(repost from Huffington Post)

One-Third of US International Students are Chinese

Chinese StudentMany Chinese students in the US paid close attention to President Xi Jinping’s visit. The surge in the number of Chinese students has become a nationwide trend in the US, making up about a third of all international students studying in the country.

100K Strong Signature Partner University of Iowa uses educational exchange to build positive relations between the US and China! Watch theCCTV clip below for more. ‪#‎加油‬ ‪#‎100KStrong‬


#Because of Them We Can

Tommie & JohnOn October 16, 1968, Sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos, gave this iconic salute during the medal ceremony at the Olympics in Mexico City.

After Smith won the gold medal and Carlos won the bronze medal in the 200 meter-dash, both took to the podium barefoot in protest and proudly raised their black-gloved fists, while the U.S. National Anthem played. This move allowed Smith and Carlos to take a stand against racial inequality on an international stage, but by the next day, they were forced to return their medals and were thrown out of the Olympic Village.

The third man in the photo, Peter Norman, also stood in solidarity with Smith and Carlos, by wearing an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge during the award ceremony. His actions resulted in his home country, Australia, who enforced the White Australian policy at the time, to deny him for the 1972 Munich Olympics. Although he broke an Australian record that day, Norman’s achievements would go unacknowledged.

Tommie, John and Peter, thank you for using your platform to advocate for racial equality.

PS. When Peter died in 2006, both Carlos and Smith traveled to Australia to serve as his pallbearers.


OTW’s 6 Reasons Why You Should Learn Mandarin

PAASSC is always excited to share reasons why your child should learn Mandarin. Check out this video from Off The Great Wall. Here are 6 reasons why they believe you (your child) should learn to speak Mandarin.

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