Chinese And Non-Western Languages "Critical" For Competitive Students

07/05/2011 12:01 pm ET | Updated Sep 04, 2011

Mandarin teacher Li Wang sat in a chair small enough for a 4-year-old, her enthusiastic students sitting on the classroom carpet in a separate square. She placed a picture of a chicken on the board, pointed, and asked:

In unison, the prekindergarten class answered: "Ji!'' (Chicken!)

Such classes have usually been taught in suburban classrooms and prep schools. But this is no suburb: It's a Hyde Park charter school, where most students are black or Latino, and many from low-income homes. They have yet to perfect English, let alone Chinese.

Chinese is becoming increasingly popular in the nation's urban schools, where educators hope the language will instill a global perspective in children whose life experiences often don't extend beyond their city's borders. And in many urban schools, students already speak languages at home that are traditionally the content of foreign-language programs.

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