The assistant principal for foreign languages at the Medgar Evers College Preparatory School in New York had all the data at her fingertips before responding to questions about the recently released China Daily/Gallup poll.
“Spanish is the No 1 foreign language offered in the schools across the country, French is second and Chinese is third – but growing exponentially,” Adilifu added.
In the survey of 2,007 US citizens and 250 opinion leaders, conducted in December, four choices were given to the question, “If you were given a chance to learn a new foreign language, which language would you rather learn?”
Not surprisingly, Spanish was the easy winner with 58 percent, but Chinese placed second at 15 percent. Arabic was third with 11 percent and Japanese trailed at 10 percent.
US students learn how to write Chinese characters with brushes in Chengdu, Sichuan province. The students, from State University of New York, were attending a one-week exchange program at colleges in Sichuan in January 2010. Jiang Hongjing / Xinhua
This is consistent with the US census data from 2010 showing English as the top spoken language in the United States followed by Spanish and Chinese as the third.
At Adilifu’s preparatory school, all sixth graders are required to take Chinese.
Teacher Michael Jiang, who works closely with young children every day, sees the change in how China is viewed.
“In the old times, people looked at China and thought of communism. But today young kids see Chinese and the beauty of the culture,” Jiang said.
Adilifu cited the exposure of the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the positive media portrayal it received as a tremendous boost for US perceptions of China. Adilifu attended the Games and raved about the pageantry and lavish production of the opening and closing ceremonies.
The two-week world event also dispelled many notions of China being a threat and helped open up many avenues for the long-isolated land.
Strong relations between China and the US were either very or somewhat important, said 71 percent of the respondents in the survey.
The opinion leaders represented US government officials, think tank leaders, media personnel, executives and university faculties.