Student enrollment in Chinese language
programs at colleges across New Jersey is growing at a faster
clip than China's booming economy.
At Princeton University, for example,
enrollment in Chinese language courses in the past six years
has almost doubled, from 226 to 407 students.
"Enrollment is at the highest level it's
ever been," said professor David Howell, chairman of the East
Asian Studies department. "It has not yet peaked, either."
Chinese is now Princeton's third-most
popular foreign language, after Spanish and French, which
drew, respectively, 722 and 399 students in the fall term.
Other New Jersey universities have
experienced a similar trend.
In the past year, enrollment in Chinese
language programs at Rutgers has increased by 50 percent, from
100 to 150 students. And the introductory Chinese class at The
College of New Jersey more than doubled in size last year,
adding 10 students to the six that had enrolled in the 2003-04
academic year. In the fall, Rider University will offer
Chinese language study for the first time.
Gov. Jon Corzine has initiated reforms in
education policy to increase access to Chinese language
education and to develop Chinese fluency among English
"Eighteen New Jersey schools offer Chinese,
but that's not enough," Corzine said in a speech in September
2005. "We need to do better at teaching the high-demand
languages that are increasingly important in the new world,
like Chinese and Arabic."
Corzine added that by 2009, the state of
New Jersey should aim to triple the number of schools offering
Chinese language courses.
In response to Corzine, Rutgers has
developed an accelerated Chinese language teacher
certification program that it hopes will satisfy the rising
demand for qualified language instructors.
Congress has seen similar initiatives. Last
May, a bill was introduced to spend .3 billion on Chinese
language instruction in American schools.
Even without legislation in place, more and
more Princeton University students are electing to learn
When enrollment in introductory Chinese
skyrocketed last fall from 354 to 407 students, Princeton had
to hire an additional teacher to manage the work load. Next
fall, they will be adding another new instructor to their
Though Princeton's East Asian Studies
program has always been highly respected and generously funded
by the administration, until recently it was considered
unconventional and unusual to learn Chinese.
"Fifty years ago, there were virtually no
China experts able to speak Chinese. It was treated as a dead
language," said Link. "Even four or five years ago, I would
hear Chinese referred to as an exotic language. Now, no one
would call it that."
More Princeton students are electing to
major in East Asian Studies than ever before. This year, 15
students majored in the department, up from seven in 2004.
Princeton professors attribute the growing
popularity of Chinese to China's tremendous economic growth.
"Many students come to the program because
they see business opportunities," said professor Perry Link of
Princeton University's East Asian Studies department. "The
factor that's made the difference is the booming economy in
Potential economic gain drew Princeton
freshman Chris Pozzi, a first year Chinese language student,
to the course.
"Chinese is the most useful language
besides English," he said. "China has the most people in the
world right now. It is the next super power."
Observing the increase in business
partnerships between the United States and East Asia, Pozzi
and his classmates hope their language proficiency will give
them an edge when competing for jobs.
In years past, Princeton graduates fluent
in Chinese have used their language skills in a range of
professions, including journalism, law, medicine, politics and
But financial success is not the only
factor motivating Chinese language study.
Howell noted that many undergraduates are
attracted to Princeton's language program by an interest in
China's civilization and culture. Other students are
Chinese-Americans hoping to become fluent in the language of
Princeton professors highlighted the impact
of the news media in influencing the popularity of studying
the East Asian language.
"A certain percentage of students who take
Chinese are doing so because it's in the news right now,"
Howell said. "If the headlines were to change, maybe they
would not be here."
Link noted that enrollments declined
drastically after the Tiananmen Square massacre in China in
1989. It took until the mid-1990s for students to regain
interest in learning Chinese.
Link and Howell do not anticipate the
renewed popularity waning any time soon. "The only thing that
would slow down the increase in enrollments would be some huge
political crisis, but I don't see that happening right away,"
"It is definitely not a fad at Princeton or
outside the university," Link said. "It is going to stay."
A solid understanding of East Asian culture
is nearly impossible without language fluency, the Princeton
professors noted. "Unless you can function minimally in
Chinese, you can't get a feeling for what it's like for people
in China," Howell said.
"Language study is the gateway to true
understanding of East Asia," added Link.