Drop in Chinese Enrollment Requires Serious Reflections & Creative Ideas

I have read more reports and heard from more colleagues these two years that the Chinese program enrollment numbers have either plateaued or decreased. At my university, enrollment has remained in general strong, however, last year, we did see one of our smallest incoming 1st-year language classes. It might have been just a blip and the numbers seem to have bounced back this fall, but as most private higher ed institutions are facing enrollment drop, the prospect of continuing growth in Chinese program is not looking as bright. Over the past 30 years, my university has invested in building a solid Chinese program, and as one of the senior faculty members, I feel particularly responsible to ensure the program’s continuing success.

Here are some of the suggestions I have gathered from fellow teachers, administrators and researchers in the field:

1. Rethink course goals for beginning learners: motivation to continue vs. developing linguistic accuracy and fluency;
2. Identify more ways inside and outside classroom to motivate and engage students in the process of learning Chinese as a foreign language;
3. Demystify the misperception that “Chinese is too hard to learn”; re-evaluate course design to mollify learner anxiety;
4. Develop pedagogy and resources for making learning Chinese an intellectually stimulating educational experience;
5. Better address learning issues within a class or a program facing a large percentage of students of Chinese background;
6. Increase campus advocacy; come up with creative and doable methods to recruit students ;
7. Make study abroad more accessible especially for STEM students, and more affordable for all;
8. Find ways to change negative views of China among young Americans (… or wait until China’s pop culture and pop stars to gain more global recognition);
9. Build a community among students of Chinese, ask upper-level students to mentor beginners; cultivating a sense of belonging among students, parents, and teachers.

Here is a concrete example of thinking outside the box to build a community within a program, and a fun way to enhance the presence of Chinese program.

Serious reflections & discussions of these issues will help all of us in the field to better cope and correct the trend. I look forward to attending the 4th Chinese Innovation Forum this weekend to share ideas and learn from colleagues.

Reference articles:
–  American Students Lose Interest in China Studies,  Nikkei Asian Review, April 15, 2017
–  Why is China so …Uncool? George Gao, Foreign Policy, March 8, 2017.
–  A New Era for Chinese for Chinese Language,  Jennifer Walker,  July/August 2016 issue of International Educator magazine.
–   Issues in Chinese Language Teaching in Australian Schools, Jane Orton, Chinese Education and Society, 
Volume 49, 2016 – Issue 6.
–  Tasks and Learner Motivation in Learning Chinese as a Foreign Language,  Youjin RuanXiaoju Duan &Xiang Yun Du,  Language, Culture and  Curriculum, Volume 28, 2015 – Issue 2.

About the Author:
Lotus Perry, is the co-author of Taiwan Today: An Intermediate Course and an instructor of Chinese at University of Puget Sound.

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