TOWNSEND –Students in the North Middlesex Regional School District may soon learn to speak Mandarin Chinese, with the School Committee seriously considering the language for inclusion into the curriculum.
Julian Bressler, director of world languages and unified arts, addressed the committee and explained the vital role Mandarin Chinese plays in world economics.
“The world is indeed a global village, and if we are to compete in the global economy, this is where we will begin,” Bressler said.
She noted Mandarin Chinese is the most common dialect in the world.
“In China, every students starts learning English in the fourth grade,” Bressler said. “We need to go forward with a language program such as this. It is very much in demand that people speak Chinese.”
Bressler said grant money is currently available under the federal No Child Left Behind Act to fund the cost to the district for qualified teachers. The funding mechanism, known as the Foreign Language Assistance Program, would award the district $100,000 over three years, Bressler explained.
Bressler noted that 32 schools in Massachusetts currently teach Mandarin Chinese as part of their curriculum.
“Learning Chinese is much more difficult than learning one of the romance languages such as French or Spanish,” Bressler explained. “To be fluent in Mandarin Chinese there are over 3,000 characters to learn. We need qualified teachers; it will be difficult to find qualified native speakers who can pass the test in English.”
Superintendent of Schools James McCormick said he fully supports having Chinese introduced into the district.
“We are looking to the future, and if we don’t jump on the bandwagon we’re going to be left behind the eight-ball,” he said.
Bressler said she would like to start teaching the language to fourth-graders.
“You cannot take a language as difficult as Chinese and wait until high school to start,” she said. “(We) will have to implement it at an early grade level. We can still keep the foreign languages we currently have — Spanish, French and Latin — and down the road Chinese could replace one of them.”
School committee member Frederick Wheeler III said he was not comfortable relying on a federal grant to pay the tab.
“The federal government giveth, then taketh away,” Wheeler warned. “I am hesitant relying on them for the funding.”
McCormick said the grant money is solid, and this would be the time to jump on it.
“The funding is there, but we have to take advantage of it now and not wait,” McCormick said.
Committee member Dennis Moore agreed with McCormick that the district needs to take advantage of the grant money situation.
“This is genuinely important to our future,” Moore said. “We have to get business behind this and let them know if they support us with this then we can then provide them with American kids that can speak Chinese. I believe we are the only nation that feels we can compete speaking only one language.”
Bressler said the deadline for requesting the grant is June 30, so she will “burn the midnight oil” to complete the grant request.
McCormick said he hopes the grant application can be finished by the deadline, to highlight his last day on the job as superintendent.
“That can be my last grant I sign,” he joked.