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Chinese Lessons For First Graders

In France, demand for lessons in Chinese and Japanese now rivals traditional options Spanish and German. English is still tops.

It's not just the language: French children love Asian culture too
It's not just the language: French children love Asian culture too
Aude Sérès

PARIS - Chinese class instead of football, Japanese instead of judo. For parents in France, the latest trend is to invest in their children's future by signing them up for Chinese lessons as soon as they reach pre-school.

In the latest indication for the growing popularity of Asian languages, so many parents are sending their children to learn Chinese or Japanese that the CNED (France's national distance-learning center) has cancelled its traditional German language option for primary school children and replaced it with Chinese. About 100 children are signed up to the course, the same as those signed up for Spanish. As well as lessons, students get a compilation of documents on Chinese culture, and an exercise manual.

In state-run education, English remains the top foreign language. But in the latest figures, 592 children are signed up for Chinese classes at primary school, just as many as are learning Spanish. But the trend is most marked in the private sector. Tutors and specialized language schools have been profiting from this emerging market over the last few months. The Cultural center of China in Paris has seen a significant increase in the number of pupils under the age of 14 over the last two years. Now totaling 150, these young children represent a quarter of all their students, and have one and a half hours of lessons a week.

"For the last two years we've noted a 20% rise each year in the number of young children signed up," says Ming Zhu, who is responsible for education in the cultural center. "Most often, these are French families making a strategic educational choice. The parents see the teaching as a factor that will contribute to their children's future success." But certain children are also instinctively enthusiastic about these languages from an early age. Manga culture and Japanese cartoons, video games, and even the figurines popular with young girls, are all factors attracting youngsters towards the Japanese culture.

"A younger manga readership has contributed to the appeal for learning the Japanese language", notes Lionel Panafit, a researcher of manga sociology at the French business school HEC.

This is the case for ten-year-old Lisa, in her fifth year of primary school, who has been learning Japanese for two years. "First I became interested in mangas, then in Japanese culture," she says. "I found the language was beautiful and that made me want to learn it."

Private Japanese tutor, Shizuru Prieur, who teaches students in their own homes, says that the "The idea often comes from the children themselves. And besides, it's a good age to learn Japanese phonetic reflexes'. The Yukata school, which also organizes intensive courses, has noted an increase in home lessons for 7 to 8-year-olds, and even has a three-year-old child among its pupils.

Photo - tiseb

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