U.S. Kids Should Learn Chinese
Mandarin should be a core language offered in all American public schools. Pro or con?
Pro: A Business Plus
We live in a global and interconnected economy and we need to prepare our kids for it.
That preparation includes such skills as speaking outstanding English, since English remains a key language in global business, science, and technology. We must continue to address the alarmingly low levels of English proficiency we see in many of our students. Only 30 percent of U.S. students are proficient English-language readers, according to state test data.
We also need to prepare our kids to navigate a global workplace in which knowledge of languages and cultures other than our own will provide a key competitive advantage for higher-paying jobs.
China will inevitably be a major economic, political, and cultural force in our children’s future. We should prepare our students to engage, collaborate, and compete with their Chinese peers.
Any diplomat or international business professional will attest to the tremendous advantage that speaking and respecting a counterpart’s language brings to any negotiation or partnership. Increasingly, that colleague across the table will be a native Chinese speaker.
By teaching Mandarin in U.S. public schools, we are making a wise investment in one of the many vital skills our children will need to compete for high-skill jobs and thrive in the interconnected 21st-century economy.
Con: A Wrongheaded Expense
The language of business is money, not Mandarin. Only a small percentage of Americans currently speak Mandarin, even in the business world. This has not prevented us from doing business with China. In fact, our liberal trade with China has spiraled out of control to the detriment of our own economy.
The U.S. government owes Chinese investors more than $1 trillion, a result of their heavy investment in our debt. In addition, our manufacturing base has been replaced by outsourced labor and domestic unemployment now exceeds 9 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Our fiscal deficit has surpassed $1 trillion per year and our nation’s total debt has jumped to more than $14 trillion. We should not be using scarce tax dollars to teach American students to speak Mandarin.
China also practices mercantile trade policies, including a pegged exchange rate, artificially deflated currency, and a notoriously lax regulatory environment. Teaching Mandarin will only provide extra incentives for U.S. companies to continue supporting these irresponsible policies.
As an alternative to teaching Mandarin, let’s invest in teaching science, engineering, and mathematics in the hope of sparking innovation. Let’s focus on bringing production back to the U.S. and lowering the U.S. unemployment rate. If China wants continued access to our marketplace, let’s demand that it employ stricter labor and environmental regulations. We should also educate our children about all these issues. Otherwise, we will weaken our economy even further and do a great disservice to future generations.