Challenges of Teaching (The Graduating Class)
in Chinese Language School

Ifay F. Chang, Ph. D.*

Northern Westchester Chinese School
Somers, NY 10536


President, TLC Information Services (Medical World Search)
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Extended Abstract

Before Chinese language becomes available as a foreign language elective in regular middle and high school curricula, the Chinese Language School will continue to perform its traditional role offering a supplemental curriculum to regular K-12 students who wish to study Chinese. A typical Chinese language school has classes labeled as K-12 consisting of students corresponding to the American education system of K-12 levels. A rigorous Chinese language school adheres to a standard of achievement level for each class so the average student in a class will progress from K to 12 as he or she synchronously progresses in the regular school system. Some exceptional students with high achievement in Chinese language studies (typically first generation immigrant students had Chinese schooling prior to immigrating to the United States) can graduate from Chinese language school's 12th grade while he or she still in the 10th or 11th grade of a regular school.  Conversely, a student with low achievement level in Chinese language may not reach the Chinese language school's 12th grade while he or she has successfully completed the graduation requirement (12th grade) of a regular school. Since Chinese language study is an extra burden to the regular schooling, an excellent graduating student in a regular high school unable to graduate from the Chinese 12th grade experiences a tremendous psychological impact. Therefore, some Chinese language schools will either relax the 12th grade standard to allow  otherwise not qualified students to attend and graduate synchronously with the regular school 12th grade or to allow any regular 12th grade student to graduate from the Chinese language school so long he or she is also graduating from a regular high school. On the other hand, an early graduate of Chinese language school, because of his or her high achievement, may have one or two years gap in Chinese language study before enrolling into a college with Chinese language electives. Concern of this gap (may cause a serious set back in Chinese language) often makes the parents to demand the Chinese language school to maintain a higher standard for the graduating classes (11th and 12th grades) so that the students will not be forced to graduate early.   

The above scenarios present a great challenge to the Chinese language teachers (and the school administration) who teaches the graduating class in Chinese language schools. Because of these scenarios, the parents of students of different categories will have different expectation and wishes of how the graduating class and how the graduating students are taught. In addition, the final two years of regular high school can be very hectic as students must prepare and take PSAT, ACT and SAT tests, participate in graduation activities and focus on visiting and applying for desired colleges. These activities do cause a lot of absenteeism in Chinese Language School in the final year that makes the teacher very frustrated. Presently, the Northern Westchester Chinese School offers only one semester study for the 12th grade and holds the graduation ceremony in the month of Chinese New Year. It obviously is not a solution but a default compromise to the above scenarios.
In this presentation, the author wishes to examine the various issues involved in determining an optimum curriculum for the graduating class of Chinese language school under the following premises:The regular education system will not have Chinese language studies as electives (Present situation)
· The regular education system will have Chinese language studies as electives in High School (May happen soon as more colleges are offering Chinese language studies and exerting influence on high schools through student admission)
· The regular education system will have Chinese language studies as electives in Middle School (As language studies are more effective when taken at young age, it is a logical step to add Chinese language to middle School. Congress may legislate.)
As we are in the juncture that a transition of the above premises may take place fairly soon, it is timely for Chinese language teachers to initiate a forum to discuss the issues and explore the solutions. Anticipating that premise 3 may become a reality, we should take a critical look at our current system. We may also review the historical evolution of other foreign language curricula (French, Italian, Spanish) in American education system to guide us to develop the most effective curriculum and teaching method for Chinese language studies. There are many more issues that can be considered within the time allotted in this session. However, the author hopes to draw the wisdom of many experienced and jaded language teachers into this forum by throwing a few pebbles to pry open the jade gems. Some of these pebbles which will be examined more in detail here are listed as follows:
· What changes the current Chinese language school system we should make to meet the expectation and demand from graduating class point of view (students and parents)?
· What do the colleges offering Chinese language studies expect the 6-12 schools to prepare their graduates in Chinese language studies? How should Chinese language schools modify their curricula and pedagogy?
· What can we learn from other foreign language pedagogy in 6-12? Can we learn anything from the model of foreign language honor societies in 6-12 and colleges in promoting their languages?
· What will or should American Chinese language schools evolve to, given that Chinese language may become a main-stream foreign language in United States? General purpose to special purpose?   
The author appreciates your interest and comments. The author intends to broaden the scope of discussion in the full paper to be written.

Chinese Version (  



The Chinese language schools in the United States have a history of several decades long. Until recently, its evolution has always been driven by a cultural need of the Chinese Americans and ethnic Chinese immigrants who settled in this country. Examining the past and looking into the future, one can not help but observe a rapid change that is taking place principally due to the change in student profile and the interest and expectation of the parents of the changing student population. There are a number of issues in the traditional Chinese school model that are very challenging to the school administrators and the teachers. These issues are compounded towards the graduating classes in a Chinese language school. This is one of the main topics to be discussed in this paper. Due to the rapid changes in the profile of Chinese school student body and its correspondingly diversified attitude and expectation from students’ guardians, a different set of issues are challenging the school administrators and teachers now. These issues are difficult to resolve not only due to the complexity involved in the teaching of the Chinese language itself but also due to a new phenomenon that the Chinese language is more embraced by the US as a nation and even may become a main stream foreign language study in the US K-12 schools. The author’s interest in presenting these issues in a formal forum is to stimulate a rigorous dialogue among experienced Chinese language teachers and administrators. Hopefully, this dialogue can shed some light to solutions to deal with the issues before they become complicated problems. Finally, the author wishes to share his experience in teaching the graduating class of a Chinese language school and to analyze the challenging issues anticipating that the role of Chinese language school may make a drastic shift when Chinese language study becomes a main stream elective foreign language study in the US K-12 schools.

Traditional Chinese Language School and Its Challenges

In the traditional Chinese language school model, the Chinese school grade levels are more or less mapped against the US K-12 school grades; that is to define grades essentially by age. This model works well when the school admits students from Kinder Garden level and move them up the grade ladder year after year. However, Chinese language school, as a supplemental studies taught a couple of hours a week, can not expect all the students to make uniform progress year after year. In addition, due to the movement of families (going with the job transfer), the Chinese language schools always have to accommodate new students or transfer students coming into middle level grades. If the new students are assigned by their age (K-12 grade level), they may or may not be matched with the Chinese language skill level of the class they are assigned to. Sometimes, a few remedy classes can bring them to match but sometimes they would have to be assigned to a lower or higher grade (younger or older age) class. This situation happens more often as students advancing towards high school years. This situation creates a number of issues and problems. Table 1 presents a summary of the situation with the traditional Chinese language school which can facilitate a deeper discussion. The issues and problems are originated from the needs of the students and/or their guardians. These issues and problems ultimately affect the graduating class as pointed out in the table. The higher skill level students are forced to graduate early but they will have a time-gap before they can resume Chinese language study in colleges. On the other hand, the lower skill level students will lower the class standard as they all wish to graduate with a certificate. These issues are difficult to deal with in small volunteer-staffed Chinese language schools. These problems are going to persist and are further complicated as we shall discuss next.

However, as we are engaging in a discussion about the present Chinese language school system, the author wishes to make an observation of some rapid changes that are happening in our Chinese language schools. These changes will have a drastic impact on Chinese language schools in the US.



Table 1

Traditional Chinese School



Cultural needs of American Chinese and Chinese immigrants families, especially children Changing student profile/needs


Mapped to US K-12 by grade, supplemental study, 2+hours/week, graduate with a certificate/diploma, expect progression parallel to K-12 or early graduation Increasingly difficult to match by age


1. Family background (0 to 2+ generation in US) makes students’ Chinese language proficiency divergent with age, hence challenging the above model
2. Transfer students coming from different Chinese schools globally, difficult to match by age to US Chinese school’s K-12, especially those coming from Asian countries
Further complication with traditional Chinese versus Simplified Chinese or Zu-ying versus Pin-ying as background


1. Students/parents with proficient Chinese language background desire high standard to be maintained through out K-12, especially in high school years, they desire to absorb more Chinese language and cultural subjects.
2. Students/parents with low Chinese language skill desire to attend higher grade classes with lower standard so they can keep up and graduate.
High level student graduating early creating time gap before continuing Chinese in college or Low level student dropping out or unable to graduate, both undesirable situations


The role of traditional Chinese language school is slowly transforming. The change forces are emerging rapidly that the slow reacting voluntary organizations of traditional Chinese language schools can hardly cope.  


Changing Chinese Language School and Its Challenges

The most significant change in Chinese language school is the student profile. Over the recent years, there are increasing number of Chinese immigrants from Mainland China coming to the United States in proportion to Chinese immigrants from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore. The language background of Mainland Chinese immigrants is the simplified Chinese and their preferred teaching method to English speaking people is the Pin-Ying method. As US and China are increasing trade and other exchange activities (which cause the US business world to feel the need to appreciate the Chinese language, especially the simplified Chinese language), adopting the simplified Chinese by US Chinese language schools becomes more practical and desirable. Therefore, many Chinese language schools have begun to adopt the Pin-Ying method and the simplified Chinese. Since China’s five thousand years of history and literature heritage are in traditional Chinese, it is natural and imperative to keep the traditional Chinese rather than abandon it completely. As more non-Chinese are exposed to the Chinese language, the public perception has begun to understand the importance of the traditional Chinese as well. Hence, Some Chinese language schools are teaching both Simplified and traditional Chinese. Arguably, the Zu-ying method of teaching traditional Chinese has its phonetic merits and pedagogical advantage in teaching young kids who are learning English at the same time (Pin-Ying uses English alphabets but with phonetic sounds different from English which confuses little kids learning English and Pin-Ying at the same time), therefore, it is desirable for some Chinese language schools to adopt both Zu-ying and Pin-ying teaching methods introducing them in early and later years respectively. From pedagogical, literary and historical perspectives (setting political views aside), accepting and adopting both Chinese language forms and their teaching methods make a lot of sense. However, this approach does cast much more burden on Chinese language schools. The issues challenging the traditional Chinese schools discussed above become further complicated because of the dual teaching systems and their corresponding teaching content required.

Due to the above changes, the consequence is a rapid change of student profile in Chinese language schools. The students have both simplified and traditional Chinese language background. Their parents have diversified views and attitudes towards teaching method. Another significant factor should be pointed out is that there is an increasing population of Chinese children adopted by American families and off-springs of inter-racial marriages. Mindful of providing their adopted children with an exposure to Chinese language and culture, the adopting parents often enroll their adopted children (sometimes with their natural born siblings) into a Chinese language school. The inter-racial married couple also desire to have their children to have exposure to the Chinese language and culture albeit with a different expectation. For these (adopted or mixed) children alone, the sequential teaching of Zu-ying and Pin-ying to learn Chinese may not add too much more complication in itself (to the school and the teachers). However, the adopting parents often want to learn Chinese themselves with Pin-Ying method, since by far Pin-Ying method has been adopted in colleges as the method in teaching Chinese language to American adults. Adopting parents and non-Chinese spouse learning Chinese with their children does create a better learning environment, but teaching the children Zu-ying method without their parents learning it presents a serious challenge. Since most Chinese language schools can not afford to separate their grade levels, especially entry level classes, into too many tracks (different teaching methods), the rapid change of student profile has become the major reason for re-examining the Chinese language school model and its pedagogy.

Table 2 presents a summary of the situation with the changing Chinese language school which serves as a token to draw a deeper discussion. While we are engaging in such a discussion about the changing needs, different teaching methods, difficulty of maintaining achievement standards and the impact on the graduating class, the author wishes to make another observation of the possible changes coming in the near future. This change if happened would have even a greater impact on Chinese language schools in the US, since it may change their traditional role, established in the past decades, into something significantly different.


Table 2

Rapidly Changing Chinese School



Cultural needs of American Chinese of 0 to 2 + generations, recent immigrants with simplified Chinese language background and American families and their adopted children and natural born children.

Complex student profile challenging school administration and teachers


Mapping to US K-12 by grade difficult hence requiring multiple tracks to accommodate dual teaching systems, dual version of Chinese textbooks, increasing need for teaching adults (2nd generation American Chinese, inter-racial marriage parents/spouse and adopting parents of Chinese children) and parent-child team. Challenge of dual teaching methods,
Divergent student and parent profile


1. Division of multiple tracks and transitions from track to track
2. Difficulty in dual teaching methods, requiring more special teacher and teaching material and transition from Zu-ying to Pin-ying method
3. Teaching parents to learn and teach with their children in one selected teaching method or dual teaching methods. Administrative and financial burden of small classes
Requirement of more cultural and educational subjects (raising Adopted Chinese children)


1. Difficulty in defining and maintaining the standards of Chinese K-12 level
2. ‘Graduation’ will lose its traditional meaning
3. Meeting the expectation of college level Chinese language courses
Students and parents have very different expectation in Chinese studies depending on their different backgrounds


Rapid Changing students/parents profile/expectation are forcing a reconsideration of Chinese language school in model, in teaching methods and in teaching materials. The different needs of students and parents have to be recognized. Desire to continue Chinese studies in college places a new expectation on Chinese language schools before US K-12 fulfills such a role.  



Chinese As A Main-Stream Foreign Language Study in US K-12 Schools

While we are observing the rapid changes happening to Chinese language schools, an emerging phenomenon which may have a greater impact to Chinese language studies must be pointed out. This is a much welcomed phenomenon, that is, the United States as a nation is increasingly embracing the Chinese language as a main stream foreign language, important from business point of view and enriching from culture point of view. Other languages such as French, Italian, Spanish and others have been accepted for years as a main stream foreign language for the same reasons. They have been offered in secondary schools as part of the educational curricula. When Chinese language study is offered in US K-12, the role of Chinese language school will change for sure. The current change forces (change on student profile) are also forces that will accelerate the legislative process and implementation process of adopting Chinese study as an elective second language in K-12. Hence, while we need to react to the current change forces now, we should also look ahead to anticipate the major consequence to occur.

The acceptance of Chinese language as a main stream Foreign language may have more challenges than other alphabetical foreign languages to the school administration and teachers. The ideographical language is harder to learn both in reading, speaking and writing. There are tons of Chinese literature worthy to be study materials but they lack of teaching aid in terms of pronunciation (Zu-ying and/or pin-ying), anotation and accessible references especially via the Internet. However, the existence of so many Chinese language schools in the US over the past half a century or more does present an advantage to helping the K-12 schools to adopt the Chinese as an elective language study. The existing Chinese teachers are a valuable resources. Their teaching experiences would save a lot of mistakes in arriving at an effective method of teaching Chinese in the US K-12 school. Many of the teachers have developed their own teaching materials based on their years of teaching experience. These materials should be published so they may be shared and used by K-12 schools. The Chinese school teachers should enrich themselves with formal education courses so they can be certified to teach in the US K-12 schools. It is imperative that all Chinese teachers must put aside any political biases and treat the Chinese language evolved over the 50 centuries collectively as a common language (Reference: Chinese 'Common Language' and 21st Century, Only by treating Chinese as a common language and exploring advantages of both of its teaching methods in speaking and in writing respectively, the migration of Chinese into a main stream foreign language in US school systems can be a smooth one. The author urges all Chinese language teachers to keep this in mind while dwelling on the discussion and questions posted in this paper. Table 3 postulates what issues may arise when US K-12 begin to offer Chinese language electives.

Challenges of Teaching The Graduating Class of Chinese School

The above discussions may seem to be only tangentially related to the title of this paper. In fact, the issues we have discussed do ultimately affect the graduating class. The graduating class represents a summation of all students in Chinese school since their ultimate goal is to graduate. The graduates going to college often want to continue their Chinese studies. Some also would like to be able to get a few credits for the Chinese studies they have done prior to college. The main challenge of teaching the graduating class is to meet theirs and their parents’ expectations in a last semester with no chance to make any remedy. With the changes happening to Chinese school student profile, the graduating class’s expectations vary a lot. Hence the teacher has to tailor design his course content every year. Some classes need more cultural enrichment, some classes need to enhance more in Chinese reading and writing and some classes need more heritage understanding in Chinese history. The requirements of the graduating class really depends on how they were prepared in the lower classes or what school model they have been taught through. As the traditional Chinese school model is giving way to modifications (adoption of dual teaching



Table 3

Chinese Language Study Offered in US K-12



Sufficient number of students desire to study and major in Chinese as a second language. Supplemental and remedy studies in Chinese language divide into 1) supporting US K-12 Chinese studies and 2) advance studies beyond US K-12 offerings. Chinese language school has two paths to choose with different requirements on its faculty and course content.


1. Tutoring school in Chinese studies to augment and support the US K-12 Chinese study curricula
2. School of advanced Chinese studies focusing on Chinese SAT, College level courses and specialty training
1. Requires recognition and working relation with US K-12
2. Desires to be accredited


1. Chinese language studies will no longer adhere to the traditional somewhat uniform teaching nor to the rapid changing bandaged solutions, rather, it will evolve to a new set of offerings closely matched to the supplemental needs of US K-12 Chinese curricula. Current Chinese language school have no idea what that might be yet.
2. Advanced Chinese studies will have the challenges of a business institution not a voluntary organization.
Ad hoc and voluntary organizations must adopt a business approach to fulfill a new role when US K-12 schools begin to offer Chinese language studies.


1. Educational reform issues around how Chinese studies will be offered first in High School then in Middle School
2. Legislation may be slow and implementation in different states may be in various speed.
3. New York and California Will have to take the first challenge (Lead)
The large population of American Chinese and Chinese immigrants in NY and CA will dictate the progress but must be sensitive to the needs nation wide


Chinese language study becoming a main stream foreign language in US K-12 should be expected like Spanish and other languages. The history and evolution of Spanish, French, Italian, etc as second language studies can be reviewed and referenced to define an effective Chinese language study program in US K-12. The existing Chinese language schools have a lot to offer in terms of teaching methods and pedagogy. Those who are looking forward should give the issues some serious thoughts.  


methods, switching among multi-track curricula and accommodating diversified student profile), the graduating class will always be different year after year. If the ultimate change would be adopting Chinese language study in regular K-12 schools, perhaps, then the challenge of teaching the graduating class may be simplified by an educational code defined in the curriculum book.

In a way of concluding this paper, In Table 4, the author postulates three scenarios (Current Chinese school, Chinese electives offered in 9-12 schools and Chinese studies offered in 6-12 schools) and post a number of questions (regarding what Chinese language schools may possibly change) with the purpose of stimulating some discussions. Your thoughts are very much welcomed. Hopefully, these questions will lead to a formal forum to produce some answers which will benefit the future Chinese language schools in the United states and their partners in US K-12 schools and colleges.


The challenges of teaching the graduating class in Chinese language schools are really the challenges of teaching in Chinese language schools. The graduating class represents the entire school, its purpose, its effectiveness and its achievements. A Chinese language school will not be a good one unless it understands its purpose and then establishes a good school model both in teaching and administration. We are in a constantly changing world and the change forces impacting current Chinese language schools are rapid and complex. As teachers and school administrators, we must be aware of the present situation and must look forward into the future scenarios to ask ourselves the right questions. What will our Chinese language schools evolve into in the next few years? What shall we prepare for the coming scenario? The author would like to communicate and work with all Chinese language teachers to find the correct answers to our questions. So we may see the day that Chinese language study will be taught effectively in K-12 through colleges and the Chinese language indeed becomes one of the main stream common languages of our global world.

Chinese Extended Abstract (

Author’s Biography

Dr. Chang is an inventor, research scientist and an educator with many years of academic and industrial experience. Started his career with a dual job as an assistant professor with Syracuse University and as an engineer with IBM, he has traversed both the academic and industrial path in his career. In 30 years with IBM, principally at the IBM T. J. Watson Research Center he engaged in industry research and development in several disciplines and evolved from research scientist to people manager. External to IBM, he has been invited by the Computing Center of the Executive Yuan, Taiwan, Republic of China as a consultant to initiate office automation as well as invited by the Computer Board of Singapore Government and National University of Singapore to participate in Singapore's IT2000 plan taking the challenge of creating an information technology research institute from null to an internationally recognized research organization of 80 staff. One of the highlights in his leadership and creativity has been demonstrated by the completion of an Intelligent Public Information System (IPIS), an embryo of today's world wide web. Internal at IBM, he has been invited by the Office Products Division at Austin, Texas to explore an office transformation which led to the concept of principal workstation for offices. In later years, he has chartered the application research for IBM and created the Application Solution Institute within TJ Watson Research Center to steer IBM into customer focused application research where he led and completed the development of IBM's Image Document Management System, Managed Care and Clinical Information Systems. Motivated to extend his research on Internet based systems


Table 4

US K-12 Will Not Offer Chinese Language

US 9-12 Will Offer Chinese Language Studies

US 6-12 Will Offer Chinese Language Studies


Present Chinese language school reacting to rapid changes in student profile Colleges offering Chinese language studies may exert influence on High schools Language studies are more effective starting younger age, Congress may legislate

Question One

What changes the current Chinese language school system should make to meet the expectation and demand of the graduating class? Will Chinese language school disappear? Or will Chinese language school become an advanced Chinese language institute? Will Chinese language school disappear? Or will Chinese language school become a supplement/remedy school to 6-12?

Question Two

Should Chinese language school try to understand the college expectation in pre-college Chinese study and meet them? What do the colleges offering Chinese studies expect 9-12 schools to prepare their graduates in Chinese language study? What do the colleges offering Chinese studies expect 6-12 schools to prepare their graduates in Chinese language study?

Question Three

What experiences of teaching Chinese in an English speaking environment can be summarized? What can we learn from other foreign language pedagogy in 9-12 schools? What can we learn from other foreign language pedagogy in K-12 schools?

Question Four

Should Chinese language school begin to organize a Chinese language honor society? What can we learn from foreign language honor societies in 9-12 schools to motivate students to study a foreign language? What unique teaching methodology the current Chinese language schools can transfer to 9-12 and 6-12 schools? Later K-12?




and apply to education, he accepted an invitation by the Polytechnic University in Brooklyn and was granted an extended leave from IBM to create an academic and industry collaborative research institute devoted to inventions and innovations. He led a team and developed the world's first complete online education system known as I-CARE and fostered an entrepreneur incubation environment. While serving as the Executive Director of PRIDE, he also served as an Industry Professor at the Computer Science Department as well as the Dean of the Graduate Center of Polytechnic University - Westchester Campus. Presently, Prof. Chang is the CEO and President of TLC Information Services, a company he established to bring information technology to help schools and small businesses. In this entrepreneurial mode, he has devoted considerable time to education, his passion, by working with elementary school teachers and Chinese language schools in developing creative teaching pedagogy. He teaches 12th grade and culture classes at MWCS. He is also serving as a policy board member of the Northern Westchester Putnam Teacher Center, a funded organization by New York State for enhancing education and teacher training.

Dr. Chang received a B.S.E.E. from NCKU and M.S. and Ph.D. from URI, published over one hundred technical papers and a dozen patents. Dr. Chang is a fellow and past president of Society for Information Display and members of several academic societies. His hobbies are game invention, tennis and reading.