Language for a New Landscape

Chinese language minor gives students new opportunities in globalized world.
Language for a New Landscape

Senior Kendall Malone (Chinese Language minor/Psychological & Brain Sciences major) practices writing in Mandarin with Prof. Ming Wu (Classical & Modern Languages).

Chinese language minor gives students new opportunities in globalized world

Of the 7.2 billion people on Earth, 14 percent speak Mandarin and an additional six percent speak another dialect of Chinese. The next most widely spoken language worldwide, Spanish, has three times fewer native and second-language speakers.

Compare that to the number of people studying Mandarin – roughly 30 million worldwide – and it is clear that there is a gap to fill.

"One of the main reasons I came to UofL is that I am able to continue to learn Chinese," said senior Kendall Malone, who is majoring in Psychological & Brian Sciences in the College of Arts & Sciences. "I plan on moving to China and bridging my psychology knowledge with my knowledge of Chinese language and culture to work addressing mental health issues there."

Malone is enrolled in the Classical & Modern Language Department's Chinese Language minor program, which began accepting students in the fall 2016 semester. The new language minor took the place of the department's Chinese Studies minor, which with its focus on culture and history was moved to the Asian Studies program. Now students can immerse themselves in a language-focused curriculum with two full-time faculty members devoted to developing and sustaining the program.

woman writing mandarin"Our undergraduates are well aware of the importance of the Chinese language, in addition to Chinese history and culture, in today's globalized economy and diverse environment, and they welcome more opportunities to study it," said Chinese language professor Li Zeng, director of the new minor program. "We are answering this increased demand by offering a recognized program of study rather than just the occasional individualized offerings."

The Chinese Language minor provides learners of Mandarin Chinese with a standards-based, topically organized curriculum. The program promotes effective communication in Chinese, understanding of Chinese civilization, and appreciation of global cultural diversity. Through full-fledged coursework from elementary to advanced levels, co-curricular activities, and a summer study abroad trip to China, this program compliments majors as diverse as Business, Political Science, Humanities, Engineering, Geography, Medicine, and History, among others. The program also opens up an array of scholarship opportunities through partnerships with U.S. government agencies, Chinese institutions, non-profit organizations, and businesses.

"Apart from providing educational services for students' language proficiency to make them better suited to today's globalized world, this language-focused Chinese minor program helps increase students' success in receiving major grants like the Boren and Fulbright Awards as well as university scholarships," Prof. Zeng said.

Chinese Studies minor and Speed School of Engineering alumnus Ben Arterburn ('08) received the prestigious Boren Award to pursue studies in China while an undergraduate at UofL. He went on to get an Master's degree in Modern and Contemporary China from Columbia University and now works as a Foreign Service Officer for the U.S. State Department. Chinese Studies minor and College of Business alumnus Will Scott ('09) was one of only 15 people worldwide accepted into the graduate program in Modern Chinese Studies at the University of Oxford in 2009. And senior Calvin Grant, double majoring in Asian Studies and Geography and minoring in Chinese Language, received the World Scholars Scholarship to study Chinese in Beijing before returning to UofL to finish his undergraduate degree, intern at The Crane House and complete his senior thesis.

Even students like Kevin Zheng, who has long spoken Mandarin at home with his parents, find formal instruction in the language important for future success.
"I did not learn Chinese in a school environment, which left me with a shaky foundation and not much room to improve," said Zheng, a Chinese Language minor and Bioengineering major at the Speed School. "Learning it at an academic level helps me use language to understand interactions between people in other cultures, and it can assist me in getting a job in the future as it shows that I am capable of working with matters that require knowing Chinese."

Since the establishment of the Chinese Language minor last semester, the program has accepted six students, is processing six more applications, and is continually fielding calls and emails from prospective students. In fact, nationwide the number of university students studying Chinese has tripled in recent years according to the Modern Language Association. From expanding their cultural horizons to getting ahead in a career, students have a variety of reasons for pursuing Chinese language study.

One thing is for sure, as the most widely spoken language in the world and the one most often requiring a professional translator, students who learn Chinese will have a wealth of opportunities upon graduation.

Students studying Chinese language from left to right: (front row) Kyah King (College of Business), Yi Zheng (Bioengineering), Prof. Ming Wu (Modern & Classical Languages), Prof. Li Zeng (Modern & Classical Languages), and Kendall Malone (Psychology); (back row) Calvin Grant (Studies & Geography), Caleb Bridgwater (Biology), Robert Gassman (Political Science), and Aryn Singer (Fine Arts).