A Menu for Cooking Up Chinese

Offering Chinese language courses is all the rage these days, but developing programs can be daunting. Don’t fear, though. There are plenty of places to turn for help. The experts — mostly those district leaders who have Chinese programs in place — offer these four pieces of advice:

  • Strike up a partnership. A nearby college or university is a great place to start. That’s been extremely helpful to the Oakland Intermediate School District outside Detroit. There, the district has been working with five local universities to find guest teachers and draw on expertise for developing the program, says Tresa Zumsteg, Oakland’s deputy superintendent for instructional services.

  • Ease into the costs. Districts worried about expenses for a Chinese language program should consider another way to ease into a program startup. Yong Zhao, director of the U.S.-China Center for Research on Educational Excellence at Michigan State University, has worked to develop online Chinese language courses and software that school districts can use to introduce the concept. Going online often eases the transition into Chinese, especially if there’s community resistance, Zhao says. And it solves the problem of finding a qualified teacher.

  • Use technology to open the door. Sometimes there aren’t enough hours in the school day. Multitasking can help. Shuhan Wang, executive director for Chinese language initiatives for the nonpartisan Asia Society, suggests districts use library and technology time to teach Chinese by combining courses. The language doesn’t have to be and shouldn’t be taught in isolation, she says. Students can learn Chinese while they increase technology skills or do online math problems to “infuse learning and purpose and make learning real,” Wang says.

  • Don’t reinvent the wheel. Both Michigan State’s Confucius Institute and the Asia Society have online help for districts searching for the best way to start Chinese language programs.

The Confucius Institute ( website offers information on the institute’s online and on-site programs. Offerings include web-streaming online Chinese learning materials, online Chinese courses and online tutoring. The institute also is developing online teacher training.

The Asia Society ( also has developed a handbook for schools to use as they work to establish Chinese language programs. The book lists what constitutes a successful language program and includes professional resources. Find more information about the handbook at

— Kate Beem