US puts premium on Mandarin speakers

Two Americans are writing Chinese characters.


China's emergence has made it "hugely important" for American students to be fluent in Mandarin according to Margaret Spellings, US education secretary.


Spellings made the remark after she signed a new memorandum of understanding with China's ministry of education late last week to expand language and academic exchanges.

"It's in their [US students'] interest to come and learn from and about China and the Chinese people," she said. "You can buy in any language but you have to sell in the language of the buyer."


Research supported by the US state department has found the number of Americans studying in China jumped 35 per cent in 2004-08 over the previous university year. Spellings said her agency would work to continue the trend.


According to the Chinese ministry, 10,340 Americans studied in China last year, a smaller cohort than the 54,080 from South Korea or 18,870 from Japan.


The Bush administration plans to spend $114m in 2008 to fund its national security language initiative, which aims to increase drastically the number of Chinese, Arabic, Russian, Hindi and Farsi speakers in the US.


The US state department estimates that 200,000 Americans study abroad each year, a significantly smaller group than the 550,000 students from around the world who go to the states for an education.


Of those studying in the US, 62,580, or roughly 11 per cent of the total, came from Chinese mainland this past school year. China is second only to India, which sent 76,500 students to the US, as a source of students for US schools.


Spellings said that the Bush administration was now working to make visa application procedures "easier and more transparent" to encourage international students.