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Engaging the global future: UB program to fill demand for teachers of Chinese

Release Date: August 15, 2013

We need to educate Americans who can engage with China, and a part of that engagement paradigm is preparing students to develop an advanced proficiency in the Chinese language
Janina Brutt-Griffler, professor of foreign language education and director of the Center for Comparative and Global Studies in Education
UB Graduate School of Education

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- With Chinese now the second-most-common secondary language in America and the most spoken language on the globe, UB’s Graduate School of Education will launch a new program to train a cadre of educators to teach primary and secondary students Chinese language and culture.

The new program designed to meet the rising demand to teach Chinese as a second language will prepare teachers in New York State primary and secondary schools, and in particular those in Western New York.

“Chinese is the No. 1 spoken language in the world,” says Janina Brutt-Griffler, professor of foreign language education and director of the Center for Comparative and Global Studies in Education. “If you count those people for whom Chinese is spoken as a second language, that number jumps to 1.1 billion.”

Brutt-Griffler has taken that demand of worldwide proportions, matched it with the UB 2020 strategic priority to develop students as global citizens and worked with a colleague, Erin Kearney, assistant professor in foreign language education, to design the program. The two educators will deliver a program with special emphasis on the local education scene to train teachers perfectly positioned to fulfill this need.

“Chinese is increasingly important to our current and future dialogue with China, politically, economically and culturally,” says Brutt-Griffler. “And the foundation of that engagement paradigm, at every level, is communication.

“We need to educate Americans who can engage with China, and a part of that engagement paradigm is preparing students to develop an advanced proficiency in the Chinese language.”

The program will be administered by the Graduate School of Education in conjunction with the Confucius Institute, Department of Linguistics, Teacher Education Institute and Asian Studies Program.

A key strength of the program is how it takes students outside the UB classroom, both locally and globally, according to Brutt-Griffler. Students will participate in a practicum in Western New York classrooms and also be encouraged to hone their skills in China.

“A unique feature of the program is how it integrates recent methodology and research to develop students’ credentials for teaching Chinese,” she says. “It also takes them beyond the classroom into school buildings to teach students and allows them to travel, literally to China—to Capital Normal University in Beijing.”

Beyond learning the language, educating students in Chinese adds to their global competence and ability to understand multiple perspectives, a point agreed upon by Brutt-Griffler as well as the teachers interested in entering the program.

“I think this certification program is an excellent and practical addition to the variety of graduate studies education programs offered at the University at Buffalo,” says Sarah Foels, a social studies teacher in the Depew Union Free School District, who says her students are keenly aware of the special place China holds in her heart.

China's economy has become increasingly intertwined with the United States, especially in the past 20 years, Foels says. “Only now are we starting to examine its ways of life more thoroughly. I think that both countries still lack true knowledge of one another’s complex cultures, and they are trying to make up for years of political distrust and tension.”

Foels, who says she is interested in applying for the UB Chinese language program, says teaching Mandarin to her students would, hopefully, not only challenge them to re-think established notions about the “difficulty” and “exoticness” of this language, but also to develop an interest in Chinese history and culture that lasts beyond their high school years.

“Education seems to be the most nonthreatening means of diminishing the distance between our countries and helping to facilitate more productive communication between our nations,” Foels says.

“What will taking a Mandarin Chinese course do to help students? Yes, they can learn more about the similarities and differences between our countries. Yes, they can develop a better understanding of how languages work as a means of communication and cultural foundation. Yes, it can help them if they are interested in going into the business field. But, most importantly, I hope that they can learn what I did when I first started to study a little bit of Mandarin Chinese: that the limits of my language are the limits of my world.”

UB has applied to the state education department for approval that would allow the program to start in spring 2014. The program would be housed in the Department of Learning and Instruction, where all other registered EdM programs in teaching languages other than English (LOTE) are taught.

“Because Chinese is markedly different from English – in its sounds, its writing system, its syntax and grammar – the language poses unique challenges and opportunities for teachers and learners of Chinese in the U.S.,” says Kearney, assistant professor in the Department of Learning and Instruction who began the LOTE program.

“This new course has been created to attend precisely to these elements of Chinese language teaching and will foster a highly specialized pedagogical expertise in those enrolled in the program.  

 “Alongside their study of language pedagogy, students in the new program will develop cultural and intercultural skills while also learning how to develop these essential components of meaningful global citizenship in their own future students,” says Kearney. “The program encourages attendance at cultural events on campus and in the Buffalo community, participation in UB’s study abroad programs in China, and includes a course devoted entirely to teaching and understanding second language cultures.”

The proposed EdM degree program leading to initial/professional certification in Chinese as a second language is very similar to the other UB programs in LOTE already registered with the state leading to initial/professional certification in French, German, Italian, Latin and Spanish.

Nationally, the Chinese language is the second-largest foreign/second language spoken in the United States. Among the more than 2 million speakers of Chinese in the U.S., California and New York have more than any other state, with 519,940 and 290,454, respectively.

“Our heritage community has proven itself highly invested in sustaining its cultural traditions and involved in our academic events,” says Brutt-Griffler. “Our new program, I believe, will provide a new framework for more collaboration.”

Media Contact Information

Charles Anzalone
Senior Editor, Law, Social Work and Education
Tel: 716-645-4600
anzalon@buffalo.edu