The language spoken by more people on the planet than any other will become the latest classroom offering for Napa County’s teenagers.
An elective course in the Mandarin dialect of Chinese will open up at the American Canyon middle and high schools when the 2014-15 school year begins in August, following approval by the Napa Valley Unified School District’s board of trustees last week. The seven-member board voted in favor with the exception of Jacqueline Chilton, who was absent.
Up to 168 students will be allowed to enroll in the program, which will include four class sections in the high school and another at the middle school, according to Mark Brewer, principal of American Canyon High. Students enrolled at Napa, Vintage and New Technology high schools also can take part, along with middle-schoolers in the district.
The Chinese program is meant to give local teens an entry point not only into the most widely spoken language — some 848 million people speak the Mandarin dialect worldwide, according to the Ethnologue, a reference work on world languages — but also into the second-largest economy and a culture thousands of years old, said Brewer.
“Everybody does business with China, on a massive scale, including the United States,” he said Monday. “This is a skill set I believe benefits people greatly as they move into the workforce, especially in the Bay Area. (And) learning it with the artistry and the characters, it’s very engaging. It’s not like learning Spanish. It’s not like learning any other language.”
The five-day-a-week Mandarin Chinese program, which will use online language websites and textbooks from EMC Publishing Co., will combine reading, writing and speaking instruction with material designed to develop awareness of Chinese culture, according to a course summary released by Napa Valley Unified. Instruction will be mainly in Chinese with daily preparation and practice.
Two years in the Mandarin course will satisfy the language requirements for enrolling in California’s two four-year university networks, school and district officials said.
Educators in American Canyon had envisioned a Chinese-language course from the opening of the high school in August 2010, but funding limitations forced the school district to put off its launch.
“This is fulfilling a promise to the community that Mandarin Chinese was also going to be offered,” said Mark Morrison, Napa Valley Unified’s director of secondary education. “There’s an interest with parents and educators to offer this global language, to know and use in the global economy.”