More Americans are dunking their children in Chinese immersion classes and hiring Mandarin-speaking nannies in the hope of giving them a competitive edge as China imposes itself as an economic giant.
"The Chinese language is extremely hot at the moment," said Michael Levine, vice president of the New York-based Asia Society, a non-profit organization that promotes knowledge and understanding of Asia. "Chinese is a language that people in the hinterland -- in states as diverse as Kansas and Kentucky -- now want to speak."
The trend is such that many schools across the country are unable to meet the growing demand for Mandarin Chinese, the most widely spoken language in the world but one that is just starting to make inroads in US schools.
"Parents and people in the school business are beginning to see China as one big opportunity," Levine told AFP. "The 64,000-dollar question is: where on Earth, literally, are we going to find the high-quality teachers that we need to fulfill the demand?"
Shuhan Wang, executive director of the Asia Society's Chinese Language Initiative, said between 300 to 400 schools nationwide currently offer Chinese to an estimated 25,000 to 50,000 students and many more are gearing up for it as the federal government makes funding available.
"I have been waiting for this for 20 years and I was always hopeful that finally one day the US will wake up to the fact that we really need to expand language offerings in our schools," Wang said.