I try not to gripe on my blog, but when something seems so wrong, it’s hard to stay silent.
Yesterday when I was walking around downtown Chicago I overheard conversations in Mandarin not once, but twice in 20 minutes. And I wasn’t even in Chinatown.
So my issue is this. My suburban school district is surrounded by districts that teach Mandarin. But mine doesn’t. I knew this when we moved here four years ago, but the resistance to bring in Mandarin has been baffling. And frankly quite troubling.
What’s the problem? Is it that parents and administrators don’t see the need? Or is it that they don’t like change? Or could it be that China is scary and different?
I’m not sure exactly. But I do know that my children and their peers will lose out if they don’t have the skills it takes to make a living. Jobs are tough to come by now. I can’t imagine what it’ll be like in 10 years.
But 20 years ago I could imagine that Mandarin would burst onto the global scene as the language to know. The former Mayor of Chicago understood the importance of learning Mandarin and brought it into the Chicago Public Schools five years ago. And as I mentioned above, the suburban school districts that surround mine all teach Mandarin in high school. So to my district I ask: what gives?
I can even picture in the years to come how regional dialects might be useful to know in certain industries. While Mandarin is the unifying language in China, it’s not most people’s mother tongue. If someone does business in Fujian or Sichuan, the local dialects of cities there might come in handy as well as Mandarin. It could make the difference between getting the deal and going home empty.
Just today I was sitting at lunch with a friend when a family entered the restaurant speaking Cantonese. I actually understood the simple sentence the daughter spoke to her parents. That rocked my world.