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Jul 16, 2014 07:12 AM EDT

Calvin Launches New Chinese Education Major and Minor

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The Michigan Department of Education has approved a Chinese education major and minor at Calvin College.

Calvin is one of the few colleges in the state of Michigan to offer a Chinese education program.

The new Chinese education major is a combination of existing Chinese education and language major. Besides classroom activities, students enrolled in the new major will be spending a semester in China. .

Calvin Chinese professor Larry Herzberg said that about 1,600 public and private K-12 schools across the country offer Chinese language courses, up from 300 a decade ago. The numbers are expected to rise in future.

For example, Meadowbrook Elementary school in Grand Rapids has introduced a Chinese immersion program for kindergarten to third grade students. The school already has about 50 students enrolled at each grade level.

As a result, Chinese has now become the third most popular AP exam after Spanish and French.

"[Since I started at Calvin], we've seen a tremendous increase in the number of grade and high schools starting Chinese language programs," Herzberg said in a statement. "Eight area [west Michigan] high schools now offer Chinese, and that's not including the online program offered at Grand Rapids Christian High."

Herzberg said that the growing interest in Chinese language education follows China's rise as a leading economic power. The professor hopes that the program will help students learn the language and better understand China's culture as it plays an important role globally.

"When we began the Chinese program in the 1980s, I felt lucky to have 15 or 20 students across all levels," Herzberg said. "Now we have 75-80 students and 25 majors."

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