Everybody, it seems, wants to learn Chinese.
Both UCLA and USC are bracing for a huge demand this fall in classes that combine language learning and Chinese business know-how.
“It used to be that students taking Chinese language classes were heritage students or had friends with a Chinese background, but now you see students with no background at all,” said Audrey Li, professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures at USC and director of the Chinese Language Program.
But it’s not easy. Students must learn upwards of 3,000 characters in the Chinese writing system. While it can take at least three years to just reach the conversational stage, China’s position as a global power has provided a lure for career-minded students. “More and more students are enrolling in Chinese programs for practical reasons,” said Yihua Wang, Luckman Distinguished Lecturer at UCLA and the director of a course taught in Shanghai over the summer.
Wang, who began her program six years ago, requires at least a third-year proficiency in Mandarin Chinese.
But demand is still rising (this year 50 students applied for 20 available spots) and she is thinking of expanding the program.