The 21st century has been described as “the Chinese century," making Chinese an essential language for Americans to learn. But just as important as China’s recent rapid rise is its rich, ancient culture and contributions to global civilization. The significant differences between Chinese and Western languages and cultures offer students the challenge of learning to think in new ways.
In 1983-84, Sidwell Friends began its Chinese language program in which students develop the ability to communicate in this language and culture that is a gateway to both the past and the future. Currently, the Chinese language is introduced in 4th grade as part of the Social Studies curriculum. In 5th grade, students may begin the sequential language program and conclude their study in the Upper School with offerings such as Chinese V-AP or the Chinese Capstone Seminar.
The program begins by using stories to teach high-frequency vocabulary and structures that allow students to rapidly build proficiency in the language. In the beginning years, the focus is on topics related to daily life; as students progress, topics include cultural and societal issues. Throughout the program, Chinese culture is interwoven with the course topics to give students a rich picture of this complex culture. Over the course of the program, students build an inventory of vocabulary, grammatical structures, cultural knowledge, and communicative strategies; enact a variety of real-life scenarios; and interact with a diversity of materials, from songs, movies and podcasts to traditional stories and newspaper articles. The Chinese program is designed to help students build a strong foundation in Chinese, inspire them in their pursuit of future learning, and enable them to become true global citizens.