NCLC14: Save the Dates!

The National Chinese Language Conference (NCLC) is dedicated to ensuring the wide-scale success of Chinese language education. Join us for the 7th annual NCLC, May 8 – 10, 2014 in Los Angeles, California.

NCLC is the largest annual gathering of practitioners, policymakers, and school leaders with an interest in Chinese language teaching and learning in North America, and a key venue for bringing together U.S. and Chinese educators in the field.

Sessions will:

  • Offer practical, hands-on information and resources that participants can apply in their work.
  • Provide research and data to support claims and document outcomes.
  • Include best practices and examples of what works and what doesn’t.
  • Present programs or policies that improve educational access and success for all students.
  • Include speakers from multiple institutions and/or regions.
  • Foster dialogue between educators from different professional areas.
  • Offer fresh perspectives on critical issues in the field.

We look forward to seeing you in Los Angeles next May!

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Celebrating Chinese Language Teachers and Students

Last night we learned from a panel of extraordinary teachers: Jianhua Bai, Lucy Lee, Heidi Steele, and Xin Li. In the words of moderator Chris Livaccari, “If our language courses are only focused on grammar and vocabulary, we are doing our students a disservice.” The educators on stage—and their students via video—gave us an understanding of what language learning ought to be in the 21st century.

The Medfield Jazz Band, featuring erhu player Yang Ying, dazzled.

We will post videos of all main-stage sessions in the days to come.


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A Great Start to the Conference

Welcome to Boston!

We just got started less than three hours ago, and already we’ve learned a lot: how to develop a student-centered class; how to incorporate storytelling in the Chinese language classroom; how to assess reading and writing at different levels; China’s economic rise and what it means; how to blend Chinese language learning with the STEM subjects; how to build international programs; how to teach with documentary films; and a whole lot more.

And that’s just the beginning.

Share what you’ve learned through Twitter, using the hashtag #NCLC13.

It’s great to see you in person, and online.

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Get the NCLC13 App!

Pack your smart phone, iPad and/or laptop—and don’t forget your charger. We’ll put your digital devices to work at NCLC13.

Download the NCLC conference app to

  • See the program schedule
  • Create a custom agenda
  • Network with others
  • Take notes
  • Rate sessions
  • Download presentations
  • Share photos
  • Connect via social media

Go to your mobile device’s app marketplace and search for “National Chinese Language Conference” and install.


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How to Create Authentic Experiences for Students Studying Abroad

Next week in Boston, you’ll meet some of the teachers and students involved in what is truly a model exchange program. First, a little context.

I recently gave a presentation on effective exchange programs for students. An audience member questioned what I mean when I say these activities should result in “authentic experiences.”

Here I will explore what an “authentic experience” means for students traveling abroad and propose three ways to achieve it.

“Authentic” is a genuine learning experience, not a simple representation of the destination that doesn’t require deeper investigation. In the case of designing travel programs to China, it is both futile and counterproductive if one tries to present a “real China”—a country geographically as expansive, and in many ways, no less culturally diverse than Europe. One may try to focus on the glorious past of the Great Wall, the Terra Cotta Warriors, or on the shining present of Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, or on the neglected such as ethnic minorities and migrant workers. All of these aspects are real and relevant in understanding present day China, but not one alone is a true representation. An authentic experience is categorically not about being presented a certain aspect of a country or a people. This applies to just about any destination no matter how monolithic we may think it is.

Gig Harbor – Mudanjiang Student Exchange from Asia Society on Vimeo.

Staying in China longer, traveling to more places, and getting to know more people are all remedies. But most importantly, it is about going in with a mindset to learn. [Link to global competence definition]

For program designers, this means creating an environment where students are guided to explore and experiment with their presuppositions and form new understandings about what they see. In short, it’s an authentic experience for learning.

Here are three ways to achieve it, and there are surely more:

  • Ask students to compare what they see with what they already have heard and known. Does China look rich, poor, poised to rule the world, doomed to collapse? Why?
  • Ask them to compare what different people say. What do people of different regions, ages, gender, and professions say about their lives? Why?
  • Ask them to compare the destination and their own country and community. What are the most striking differences as well as most surprising similarities in the way people go about their lives, and what does it mean?

These simple questions lead students to examine presuppositions and stereotypes, and to discover patterns and protocols to which people and societies gravitate. And that is the start of an authentic learning experience.

Technology is another candidate that comes to mind to aid in learning about cultures. Jumbo jets and the internet bring together people and cultures from afar instantaneously and at drastically lower costs.

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Comedian Joe Wong 黄西 to Emcee NCLC13

Just confirmed for NCLC 2013: Chinese-American comedian Joe Wong (黄西)! Joe has dazzled audiences with his hilarious performances on The Late Show with David Letterman and The Ellen DeGeneres Show, and was recently the subject of a New York Times profile. He’s even roasted Vice President Joe Biden at the National Radio and Television Correspondents Association Dinner. A trained scientist with a Ph.D. in biochemistry, Joe’s unique—and intelligent—brand of bilingual, bicultural humor is a perfect fit for our conference themes and audience.



Look for Joe Monday night, April 8, on the main stage.

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On the Main Stage


Chinese language and culture experts take the main stage to discuss

  • China Across Subject Areas: The Career Connection
  • Equity and Access to a Chinese Language Education
  • The Future of Education in China and the United States


  • More than 70 breakout sessions and workshops
  • Two-hour workshops on teaching, assessment, technology, and research
  • Visits to Boston-area model Chinese language programs

This year, we have another great line-up of performers: comedian Joe Wong, the Voices of Renaissance Choir, Medfield Jazz, and the winners of the International Chinese Bridge Competition.

Voices of Renaissance Choir

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Foreign Language Policies Around the World

It is no secret that Americans lag behind in learning foreign languages despite urgent calls from the business and national security sectors. Yet it is barely a part of our policy discussion here—much to our detriment.

In other countries, this conversation is not only happening, it is a prominent part of the national discourse. Why? They see foreign language as key to economic development, even if their first language is English. They don’t feel they can rely on their native tongue alone—nor should we.

A Continuing Discourse
Australia has had an ongoing conversation about the need for students to study Asian languages. The latest development happened last November, when Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard released the Asian Century white paper, listing key goals to allow the country to take advantage of nearby Asian markets. The paper calls for students to be given the opportunity to study one of four languages throughout their entire school career: Chinese (Mandarin), Hindi, Indonesian, and Japanese.

A flurry of articles met this call, with most experts agreeing with the reasoning, but citing huge obstacles, including the US$1billion price tag for implementing such a requirement for just half of Australia. Adelaide University Asian studies expert Kent Anderson says this would be a tall order, but a crucial one: ”what is really important about learning a language is learning empathy for someone else, and learning empathy for another culture. You are able to understand, which will make you a better business person and makes it easier to have longer-term relationships.”

Meanwhile, former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd called on businesses to set quotas on the number of employees they hire who can speak an Asian language, reasoning that this would encourage students to learn them. (Incidentally, he announced this idea in a speech in China, delivered in fluent Mandarin.)

In Scotland, a recent study by the British Council showed a decline in foreign language study as well as a tendency of Scottish companies to only export to English speaking countries. Not wanting to miss out on economic opportunities, the Scottish government is responding with an examination of their foreign language requirements. Currently study of a second language is required beginning in grade six, but a new proposal would change this to grade one—allowing students to start a third language in grade five.

When examining the change to the policy, two issues are being considered: capacity of the curriculum and the role of languages in supporting the economy. Minister for Learning Alasdair Allan said: “This government has set an ambitious target to increase the value of our international exports by 50% by 2017, and ensuring our workforce has the right skills to compete internationally will play an important role in achieving this.” He continues, “This is why we are committed to reinvigorating language learning and helping more Scottish pupils learn a second language such as French, German, Spanish or Chinese in primary school.”

Language Required
Neighboring England, in response to a study showing their students are less likely to study a second language to a decent level compared to their European peers, will require all English primary students to learn a second language starting in 2014. Schools have the choice of offering one of seven languages: French, German, Spanish, Italian, Mandarin, Latin, and ancient Greek. Elizabeth Truss, the Education Minister, said: “We must give young people the opportunities they need to compete in a global jobs market—fluency in a foreign language will now be another asset our school leavers and graduates will be able to boast.”

Similarly, in Czechoslovakia, students are currently required to take a second language beginning in third grade (most take English). A third language used to be optional, however the government announced in January that it is now mandatory, beginning in eighth grade or earlier.

Expanding the Conversation
In most Asian countries, children begin learning a second language, usually English, in the primary grades. That doesn’t necessarily mean that parents are satisfied. In Japan, a recent study showed that 90% of parents just aren’t happy with their children’s English language classes. Parents feel their children aren’t gaining enough practical language knowledge and they lack the opportunity to actually speak in class. The study showed that parents are highly supportive of learning a second language and producing globally competent students: “93.6 of parents want their children to have a global viewpoint and 83.3% want their children to be globally competitive.”

Similarly in China, students may be learning English in school starting in grade three, but many parents feel this isn’t enough. Students are sent to expensive centers for learning English after school and increasingly, students in middle and high school are being sent to the United States to study. According to China Daily, 65 middle school aged children studied in the U.S. in 2005, that number increased to 6,725 in 2010. Parents feel their students will need to be able to compete internationally when they grow up and therefore need a global outlook.

With all of these conversations happening around the world, can Americans afford to continue to turn a deaf ear?

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Chinese Immersion Programs

As we prepare for the National Chinese Language Conference, our biggest event of the year, we continue to think a lot about the growth of this field over the last decade.

One of the most spectacular manifestations of the enthusiasm for Chinese language learning across the United States has been the incredible interest in Chinese language immersion programs at the elementary school level. A decade ago, there were fewer than a dozen successful Chinese language programs in US schools. Now there are well over one hundred—by some estimates, almost two hundred. Immersion programs are some of the most robust and impactful programs and so are great places to look for models for the rest of the field.

The intensity of an immersion program means that teachers need to be exemplars of effective and creative pedagogy, and parents need to be intimately engaged in supporting the learning process for their children.

Here I offer a collection of articles that focuses on creating and sustaining a strong Chinese immersion program. While these articles are especially relevant for immersion practitioners, their lessons and perspectives are broadly applicable for teachers, leaders, and parents at all levels of instruction.

> The Basics of Chinese Immersion Design
> How to Staff Your Immersion Program
> Language Immersion Success: Invest in Teachers
> Parents as Allies in Language Immersion
> Market Your Chinese Immersion Program


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Sessions announced!

NCLC13 will feature 70 expert-led sessions. Educators at the higher education and K–12 levels will have an opportunity to discuss important issues including program articulation, teacher development and support, research, and more. Below is a sampling of breakout sessions. We are confirming more. Check back soon for the full program!

About At-A-Glance Schedule Sessions

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