Chinese receives surge in interest

The Chinese language program is struggling to find instructors to lead additional sections, after student enrollment in the department’s classes rose this year to unprecedented levels.

While the Chinese language program had expected an increase of 10 students this year and allocated an additional section to meet this influx, the actual increase left about 40 to 45 students more than expected, Ling Mu, head of Chinese languages, said. About 300 students are studying Chinese at Yale, an increase of about 25 percent compared to last year’s 240, Ling said. The department is now scrambling to find two additional lectors to accommodate students’ interest.

“[East Asian Studies chair] John Treat started giving us a heads-up about the end of last week that enrollments were way up from previous years,” Associate Provost Emily Bakemeier said. “By Monday it was clear that it was going to stick and that they’d have large enough enrollments that they were going to need to hire two new lectors.”

The biggest rise in numbers occurred in first-year Chinese, which boasts 130 students this year, compared to last year’s 71, and third-year Chinese, which typically enrolls 25 to 30, but enrolled 45 students this year. Enrollment for Chinese for Advanced Beginners skyrocketed this year, which Mu attributed to students coming in more proficient than in past years. Third-year Chinese was similarly pushed for space when the 50 students who returned from a summer in China had to be accommodated.

Though China’s emergence as an economic power may be an incentive for some students, Mu credits the Light Fellowship, which paid for over 50 students to study in China this past summer, as another reason the language has become so popular on campus.

“That’s the impact of Light Fellowship, too many returned fellows,” Mu said. “So next year we will definitely prepare more sections for that course.”

He also credited Yale President Richard Levin’s efforts in fostering a long-term relationship between the University and China. Due to the influx of new students taking Chinese, a team of six teachers created online registration and an online placement test this summer. Approximately 200 students completed the online evaluation, with freshmen comprising only half the new students.

Currently, beginning language classes are capped at 12 students, and the intermediate ones at 14.

“It’s supposed to be 10 students,” Mu said. “Twelve is still a good number, many state universities have 20 or 30 students, but Princeton does 10 or eight.”

Though language classes are capped, the department maintains that whoever wants to learn Chinese will be able to do so. Yale Provost Andrew Hamilton has authorized hiring two additional lectors to cover the necessary additional teaching.

“We are delighted by this increase in interest in Chinese classes, since it not only suggests that the curriculum changes are enhancing language study, but also that many Yale students are recognizing the critical role that China will play in the modern world,” he said.

Mu said he also plans to invite at least two or three interns or temporary teachers from China in case there is a larger group to teach next year, but says that he is unable to predict the number of students who will enroll in Chinese then.

Bakemeier said hiring new professors is beyond allocated funds, but that the administration recognizes the importance of the study of language, which as a whole as grown in popularity.

“We’re seeing increases in language courses across the board in recognition of Levin’s globalization initiatives,” she said. “There have been significant increases in Italian, Spanish and German as well.”

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