While the relationship between China and the United States goes through its usual strains over currency and trade imbalances this week with President Hu Jintao visiting Washington DC, there's no denying the growing importance of China to our economy—a fact that many parents and educators have not ignored.
Foreign language in many schools is being hurt by budget cuts, but Chinese instruction in US classrooms is on the rise.
According to the Center for Applied Linguistics, from 1997 to 2008, the number of middle and high schools offering Chinese has quadrupled. Among elementary schools it has grown tenfold.
At the Bilingual Buds Chinese immersion school in New York City, the level of Chinese learning is accelerated. For a four- to- five-year old student, the instruction is about 40 [ercent in English, and 60 percent in Chinese.
The parents are of diverse backgrounds, but the reasons for sending their children there have a common thread.
One of the fathers, David Booker, explained that as China is now the second-largest economy on the planet and one-fifth of the world's population, he saw the importance in exposing his son to Chinese.
Another father, Andrew Pritchard, added, "It’s obvious that Mandarin is going to play an increasing role in the future."
Indeed, job experts say learning Chinese may not only get you in the door of a job, but in many places could also mean a bigger salary.
In 2003, Goldman Sachs predicted that China would overtake the US as the world's largest economy in 2041. Now, it says 2027. That will be just as the Bilingual Buds' pupils are hitting the job market.
"There are a lot of American or non-Chinese companies that have gone overseas and left and it shows a very big commitment to present someone that is Chinese speaking when they want to do business in China", said Kathleen Brush, a management and leadership consultant and author of "Leadership=Motivation=Innovation+Productivity: Get Ready for the Latest Global Challenges."
Little wonder that the demand for accelerated Chinese learning is growing, from as early as age two-years-old.
Bilingual Buds' founder and Executive Director Sharon Huang started the school six years ago in the basement of her home with about five kids. Now, the school has expanded into two locations with about 150 students combined.