American Students Learn Their ABC's and Chinese

China's president said Wednesday young people are the future of the relationship between his country and the U.S. The problem is, he said it in Mandarin - a language most Americans don't understand.

CBS News correspondent Terry McCarthy reports there are some American children who don't have to wait for the translation.


Americans generally assume everyone speaks English. Often, they exceed our expectations. Former Chinese President Jiang Zemin surprised Mike Wallace in 2000 by reciting the Gettysburg Address in English.

Even the French President speaks English - kind of.

But Americans do not generally share such multilingual talents. Only nine percent of Americans speak a foreign language, compared to 44 percent of Europeans - something President Obama is painfully aware of.

"We need to learn foreign languages," Mr. Obama said at a campaign rally in 2008."I don't speak a foreign language - it's embarrassing."

Instead of struggling with foreign grammar, Americans would rather struggle with headphones to hear the translation.

But not in City Terrace public school in east Los Angeles - where 90 students have been learning Chinese since kindergarten. Like his classmates, third-grader Nelson Enriquez even has his own Chinese name.

"At five years old they are like little sponges," Principal Elaine Fujiu said.

Nelson's family speaks Spanish at home, so he is trilingual - which the
8-year-old is already planning to exploit. "I might get a better job - and a raise too."

The students have been learning Chinese for four years and they are pretty good - but it's an unusual school. Across the country only 50,000 Americans are learning Chinese. In China, by contrast, there are 200 million students learning English.

The numbers are increasing. A decade ago about 300 schools in the U.S. taught Chinese. Now it's close to 1,600 - driven by interest in China's $6 trillion economy, now the second biggest in the world.

At City Terrace the Chinese immersion program is so popular they have a waiting list.

"Learning Chinese as a second language will help their children to get a better job later on," said third-grade teacher Theresa Kao.

Two languages, two cultures - and no one at a loss for words.
  • Terry McCarthy

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