World / China-US

More young Americans learning Chinese

By CHEN JIA in San Francisco (China Daily USA) Updated: 2014-03-26 09:06

For 13-year-old Apollo Mettler, each week's Chinese class had always been his happiest hour during his eight years of home schooling.

More young Americans learning Chinese

Metter's mother hugged his son after he won a prize on the Chinese Language Bridge competition held in San Francisco. Chen Jia / China Daily

"China has such a long history," the Californian teen told China Daily in fluent Chinese. "I also like its art, which is very beautiful. That's why I would like to learn more about the Chinese language."

Though his father is German and his mother speaks Spanish, the couple encouraged Mettler to master a more difficult-to-learn language for English-native speakers at a young age.

Gallup Editor-in-Chief Frank Newport said the number of bilingual Americans who speak Chinese is much lower than Spanish, French and German.

Yet a Pew Research Center report said the next most spoken non-English languages in the US behind Spanish are Chinese (with 2.8 million speakers), Hindi, Urdu or other Indic languages (2.2 million), French or French Creole (2.1 million) and Tagalog (1.7 million).

The Metters believe that knowing Chinese will better prepare their son for a career, as China's economy continues to advance and the San Francisco Bay Area plays a unique role.

"China has always been a powerful country, and it is growing fast now. So there's more opportunity for people from the United States who are able to speak Chinese and deal with the Chinese," his mother said, adding that it is harder for Westerners to learn Chinese than Spanish or French, so she wanted her son to take advantage of his younger years, when languages are more easily learned.

"So he could hear the language and be able to pronounce it, and have more time to learn it. Ultimately, it would be nice if he could learn a third language," she said.

Keeping ears tuned in to market demand, more and more schools in the San Francisco Bay Area are getting in sync with the growing popularity of Chinese in the US, as the country needs more Americans who speak and understand the language to conduct US business and diplomacy.

"Today investment is moving in both directions: China is the number two overseas destination for Bay Area businesses, with nearly 800 affiliates, and the Bay Area is home to more than 50 Chinese company affiliates," Sean Randolph, the president and CEO of the Bay Area Council Economic Institute, told China Daily.

Collaborative patenting with China-based innovators is also growing, from less that 1 percent of co-patenting with overseas partners in 2002 to nearly 10 percent today, with business collaborations spanning a range of sectors, from urban planning to IT and biotech, he said.

"Regions and cities tend to be pragmatic, and actively welcome trade and investment with China. This is particularly true in the Bay Area, where both history and cultural affinity with China are strong," he said.

"Much the same can be said for California as a whole. The quality of this relationship in the future will be an important bellwether for the trajectory of China's economy and its engagement with global partners," he said.

"If China's experience with the Bay Area holds, that message will be positive," he added.

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