Calvin adds Chinese language education major/minor


To meet the growing demand for Chinese language instruction, a Grand Rapids liberal arts college has become one of the few academic institutions in the state to offer a Chinese language education program.

Calvin College has added a Chinese language education major and minor program to its academic studies after gaining approval from the Michigan Department of Education.

Through a collaboration of the Chinese and education departments, the new Chinese education major and minor allows students to study the Chinese language while simultaneously working toward certification in elementary or secondary education.

The new curriculum incorporates coursework in areas such as education, Chinese language, Asian history, Asian philosophy, a world language pedagogy seminar and a semester-long program in China.

Larry Herzberg, associate professor of Chinese language, said the program meets Michigan Board of Education standards, and students can choose to receive certification to teach Chinese in secondary schools, elementary schools or for K-12 teaching.

“We know this will certainly attract those Chinese language students of ours who do have a passion for teaching as well as a passion for the Chinese language and culture,” said Herzberg. “Our students who want to teach in the future, this will allow them to be certified so that, at least in the schools in Michigan, they will be able to teach the Chinese language, and it doesn’t take too much more to get certified in other states.”

As part of the program, Herzberg said the study-abroad program incorporates intensive study of Chinese language and history and two to three weeks of traveling in China.

“We have our own semester program in China, which all of our majors do anyway, and almost all of our Chinese minors,” said Herzberg. “Now the education majors will be required to do that semester program.”

The program in recent years has been held at Beijing Capital Normal University, or Beijing Capital Teachers University, and Calvin is currently developing an exchange program with Xiamen University.

James Rooks, dean of education at Calvin College, said the Chinese language education program was developed after recognizing Chinese language instruction was in high demand.

“It started with awareness from the Michigan Department of Education that this is a high-needs area,” said Rooks. “We offer secondary world language majors and we have a lot of expertise in this. This program fits really well with who Calvin is … with our emphasis on world languages.”

The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages released an enrollment survey of K-12 public schools stating approximately 20,292 students were enrolled in Chinese during the 2004-2005 academic year. As of the 2007-2008 academic year, student enrollment in Chinese courses increased by 195 percent to 59,860 students.

Herzberg said there is a growing demand in both public and private schools across the country for Chinese language instruction.

“Just in the last decade or so in West Michigan, we have seen eight area high schools begin Chinese language programs and several elementary schools being Mandarin immersion programs,” said Herzberg. “With this increasing demand and very few institutions of higher learning in the state of Michigan with certification for teachers of Chinese … we thought it was time that we offered this as an additional major and minor to the Chinese language.”

Some of the schools offering Chinese in the Greater Grand Rapids area include a Mandarin immersion program at Forest Hills’ Meadowbrook Elementary School, and Chinese language classes at Forest Hills Central and Rockford high schools.

Upon completing a survey to receive students’ feedback on the interest level of a new Chinese language education major, Calvin College put together a proposal that was then submitted to the Michigan Board of Education.

Not only will the new program meet the growing need of Chinese language instruction, but it also will allow students to better understand Chinese culture, Herzberg said.

“We believe at Calvin very strongly in being an institution that fosters love and peace and understanding in the world. China is particularly important as the world’s most populous nation and the number two economy in the world,” said Herzberg.

“We want to produce students who can teach others in our country and the rest of the world about the Chinese and give them a much more nuanced view of China … and at the same time, we hope to educate the Chinese better about what we in the U.S. are about because it works both ways.”

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