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The State of Mandarin in America

In November 2021, a survey targeting 5,000 American parents with children under the age of 18 was conducted. The aim was to gain insights into the landscape of foreign language education, with a specific focus on how children are learning and the primary motivations behind learning Mandarin Chinese. Mandarin Chinese stands as the second most widely spoken language globally; however, it currently garners less than 1% of American children under the age of 17.

The Educational Landscape: In the United States today, there are approximately 73 million children under the age of 18. Astonishingly, only 20% of them are currently engaged in learning a foreign language. Even more striking, merely 3.5% of these youngsters are studying Chinese, which equates to around 420,000 learners in total. The survey data indicates that the parents of these students collectively invest nearly $1 billion annually in after-school Chinese language education.

The Growing Trend: Over the past few decades, the allure of learning Mandarin Chinese has been steadily increasing. This is evident through the proliferation of Mandarin immersion programs within the United States and the growing number of non-heritage learners - those without Chinese ancestry - showing interest in this language. However, this growth has not been evenly distributed across the nation. A mere 10 states - Arizona, California, Delaware, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Utah, and Washington - account for almost 95% of all Mandarin immersion schools.

The survey results underscore the fact that many non-heritage parents are enthusiastic about promoting cross-cultural education and recognize Chinese as a global language that can significantly enhance their children's career prospects. Since the 2009-2010 school year, the number of Mandarin Chinese immersion programs in the United States has been experiencing a steady annual growth rate of 16%.

Learner Demographics: Among those aged 3-17 engaged in Mandarin learning, 55% identify as heritage learners, while the remaining 45% classify themselves as non-heritage learners. The foremost reasons driving parents' desire for their children to learn Mandarin Chinese include the language's global prevalence, the promise of improved career opportunities, and the aspiration to maintain a connection with their heritage and culture.

Online vs. Offline Learning: The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has catalyzed a surge in the adoption of online learning solutions, with language learning being no exception. Online language learning is favored for its affordability, convenience, and flexibility, making it an attractive choice for both learners and their parents. Notably, almost two-thirds of children studying Chinese have embraced online platforms, with a significantly higher rate of online adoption observed among non-heritage learners.

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