major updates to Chinese KEY

key_softwareIf you are using one or more programs from the Chinese Key family of software, you should definitely update if you haven’t in the past few months, as some significant improvements have been made.

One of the things I particularly like about Key is that it has the rare virtue of following proper Pinyin orthography. So if you’re not familiar with it, you might want to give it or one of its sibling programs a 30-day test drive.

No, I get no kickbacks from the company; I just admire the software.

foreign languages in NZ secondary schools

New Zealand’s Ministry of Education has released figures on secondary school enrollments in foreign languages in 2007, according to a newspaper report.

Education Ministry figures show nearly 70,000 pupils studied foreign languages at secondary schools last year, with 27,284 learning French.

Japanese was also popular (18,440), followed by Spanish (9531) and German (6623).

Chinese… attracted just 1687 pupils.

The total of those figures (63,565) seems considerably shy of “nearly 70,000.” So I suspect some languages more popular than Mandarin have been left off the list. Either way, Mandarin takes only about 2.5 percent of the total. And no indication is given of what percentage of those are “heritage” students.

That’s a lot of kids taking Japanese, though. Can anyone familiar with the situation in New Zealand comment on that?

I wasn’t able to locate the source of these figures. I did, however, find some figures from ten years ago, though they don’t include Mandarin. Also, I don’t understand the categories. But, FWIW:

Numbers of students studying second languages, July 1998

language secondary learners primary & intermediate learners
Japanese 21,701 13,625
French 20,990 8,413
German 7,377 3,877
Spanish 2,247 5,172

A few more lines from the 2008 report:

Under the new curriculum, schools must be “working toward” offering pupils in years 7 to 10 the option of learning a second language from 2011, in a push to make more Kiwis bilingual.

However, the ministry says it is up to schools and their communities to choose which languages are offered – meaning French is likely to remain popular.

A ministry spokesman said measures were underway to boost teachers’ ability to teach a variety of foreign languages in schools.

They included Maori medium scholarship and overseas exchange programmes.

sources:

further reading:

UK degree-program enrollments in foreign languages

Ozaru‘s link in a comment on my previous post led me eventually to a report on “community languages” in higher education in Britain. The report provides numbers for those in degree programs for various foreign languages.

Students accepted on U.K. language-degree courses, 1996-2007

Language 1996 2001 2005 2007 % change 1996-2007 % of total in 1996 % of total in 2007
French 5655 4077 3964 3700 -34.57 33.02 28.83
Italian 837 786 639 2461 194.03 4.89 19.18
Spanish 2155 2331 2547 1401 -34.99 12.58 10.92
German 2288 1736 1503 610 -73.34 13.36 4.75
Russian and Eastern European 418 380 425 409 -2.15 2.44 3.19
Mandarin 165 165 352 392 137.58 0.96 3.05
Modern Middle Eastern 214 260 362 378 76.64 1.25 2.95
Japanese 272 249 331 306 12.50 1.59 2.38
Portuguese 128 117 118 141 10.16 0.75 1.10
Other Asian 161 171 142 118 -26.71 0.94 0.92
African 54 57 57 67 24.07 0.32 0.52
Scandinavian 65 36 57 19 -70.77 0.38 0.15
Other European 2200 1507 1667 1647 -25.14 12.85 12.83
Other non-European 2514 1900 1248 1185 -52.86 14.68 9.23
ALL 17126 13772 13412 12834 -25.06 100 100

(Adapted from Table 3.3 in the report)

If I understand the report correctly, the figures are not for total enrollments, just for students majoring or minoring in the languages in question. Thus, the actual enrollment numbers are likely much higher, though certainly not distributed evenly across the languages.

I’m pleased to note that the number of students in Mandarin programs has more than doubled in the last dozen years, though this doesn’t match the even more impressive growth rate for Italian. (I have no idea why Italian received such a boost, especially during a period in which most other European languages were shedding students.)

Mandarin now ranks sixth (or perhaps fifth, depending on how many Polish majors there are) among foreign language majors, with 3 percent of foreign language majors concentrating on this.

On the other hand, because native English speakers must devote a great deal more time and effort to learning Mandarin than most other languages, the levels of learning and achievement aren’t the same. Simply put, for most native English speakers Mandarin is damn hard, and students won’t gain nearly the same level of fluency in four years as they would studying most other languages.

For example, in 2002 Goldsmiths, University of London, which is the “largest provider of community languages in a PGCE,” set up its Postgraduate Certificate in Education in community languages, starting with Arabic, Mandarin, and Punjabi, and adding Urdu in 2004. So far all of the students enrolled in the Mandarin program have had “some knowledge of the language as a community/family/heritage language.” In other words, most — perhaps all — students have been ethnic Chinese and have a background in the language beyond the classroom.

Although the College does not especially seek to attract students who have some knowledge of the language as a community/family/heritage language, all the students accepted so far do have this background. This may change in the next five to ten years, as more non-native speaker students graduate with UK degrees in Mandarin, and some may wish to go on to teach it. However, this will only take place if there is good progression in the language from school to university level so that graduates can reach a high enough level in the language to teach up to A level. Currently, this is not the case, and those who have applied so far do not have this level of expertise.

Ouch. So it’s not that non-Chinese didn’t apply to the program, it’s that none of them were judged up to the requisite level of fluency to teach the language, despite having attained unversity degrees in Mandarin. (This only reinforces my worry about the drop in graduate enrollments in Mandarin in the United States.)

The report also notes, “There are no degree courses in the four most widely used community languages in England: Urdu, Cantonese, Punjabi and Bengali, although SOAS will offer a degree course in Bengali from autumn 2008.”

The situation is more promising for those taking A-levels in “Chinese.” (NB: The chart does not distinguish between Cantonese and Mandarin — even though these have separate oral exams — but lumps them together as “Chinese.” The majority will be Cantonese.)

presentations in the main community languages for GCSE and A-level examinations in 2007

GCSE and A-level examinations

(The figures for Spanish have not been included in the chart because it seems likely that most pupils study this as a foreign language rather than a community language: in 2007, 63,978 candidates sat GCSE and 7,152 A-level Spanish. Hindi is not included in this chart as it is not available at GCSE or A-Level.)

The total number of A-Level presentations in these languages in 2007 is 5347, indicating potential numbers in a good position to continue their studies in these languages in higher education. The ‘retention rate’ for most of languages listed above is high. This is a percentage calculated by comparing the numbers sitting a GCSE examination in a given year compared with those sitting an A-level in the same language two years later. It has to be regarded as a proxy measure, however, as not all those sitting A-levels took the relevant examination two years earlier. The retention rate over all languages (i.e. including French, German and Spanish), between GCSEs sat in 2005 and A-levels in 2007, is 7.5%. Most of the languages likely to be studied as community languages have a retention rate considerably higher than those typically studied as ‘foreign’ languages. Chinese is the most spectacular, with a retention rate of 78%, followed by Polish (51%) and Russian (42%). Only Bengali (3%) and Punjabi (4%) have retention rates below the overall figure. The high retention rate for the majority indicates that community language learners can, generally speaking, be regarded as committed students, and potentially good candidates for continued study of these languages in higher education.

source:

further reading:

Beginners should skip writing characters by hand, use computers instead: teachers

Sino-Platonic Papers is rereleasing a much more recent issue this week. This issue, no. 102 from March 2000, is by two university professors of Mandarin Chinese who advocate a “penless” approach for beginning students of Mandarin: i.e., students should use specially designed software on computers to write characters and not bother at first with learning to write characters by hand.
Here is the abstract:

In view of the fact that hand-writing Chinese characters is the most frustrating factor in Chinese language learning, we propose in this article a fairly radical approach that could bring a fundamental change into Chinese language teaching. Our suggestion is abolishing the requirement for writing Chinese characters by hand at the beginning of Chinese language learning process, and utilizing Chinese word-processing software instead to help the students

  1. bypass the difficulties entailed by character hand-writing,
  2. achieve an early development of writing skill, and
  3. reach a comprehensive improvement of their language competence.

In this article, we have offered our assessment on the following three aspects:

  1. The degree to which character hand-writing constitutes a major obstacle to early Chinese language learning;
  2. The benefits of using Chinese word-processing software in acquisition of Chinese language skills;
  3. The side effects from adopting this approach and the possibilities of their overcoming.

We believe this proposal addresses one of the most pressing issues in today’s Chinese language teaching, and should generate fruitful discussions among Chinese language teachers, as well as general interest in the field of foreign language teaching.

The full article is here: Penless Chinese Character Reproduction, by Theresa Jen and Ping Xu. This is a quick-loading HTML file.

The “penless” approach also has a website: Penless Chinese Language Learning: A Computer-Assisted Approach. Has anyone tried the software available there?