Chinese is a very old language, perhaps even the oldest according to one recently found text. Even the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics may be a younger language! Though formed thousands of years ago, it is still a living language, a fact that has prompted some to refer to the Chinese language as a living fossil.

It is spoken by more people than any other language. According to Wikipedia, “About one-fifth of the world’s population, or over one billion people, speak some form of Chinese as their native language.” Some of the countries or region where Chinese is either the official or at least a major language are China (PRC), Taiwan, Singapore. It is also spoken by millions of people in Chinese communities in other countries around the world. Mandarin, the Beijing dialect, is the predominant and official dialect of China and is one of the six official languages spoken at the United Nations.

The spoken language is tonal with Mandarin having four tones and Cantonese (the second most widely spoken dialect) having six tones. The tones of Mandarin are comprised of (1) a high, flat tone, (2) a rising tone, (3) a falling, then rising tone, and (4) a fast falling tone.

In 1949 the Chinese government undertook a comprehensive script reform that included defining a standardization guide for pronunciation of Mandarin, the dialect chosen to be the official language. In the mid-1950’s a romanization system, known as pinyin, was adopted to enable speakers of different dialects to speak Mandarin with pronunciation as defined by the new standard. Pinyin has turned out to be useful as well for foreigners who want to learn Mandarin. The earlier examples in pinyin are “Wo shi Meiguoren.” and “yi, er, san, si, wu, liu, qi, ba, jiu, shi”.

The written language evolved from a pictographic form. The fact that written language was originally recorded on turtle shells and animal bones, it is easy to understand why the overall form has linear rather than curved forms which are difficult to carve on hard surfaces. Thus each word has its own character (that is, symbol) rather than being comprised of letters as is done in western languages. There are about 50,000 Chinese characters although a working vocabulary of only 3,000 to 4,000 is sufficient to be able read a newspaper with a moderate level of understanding.

As we move into the twenty first century, more and more people around the world are learning Chinese than ever before. A recent report puts the number of people worldwide learning Chinese at 400,000. Perhaps this is not surprising due to the increasingly important role China plays in world affairs. In the United States, several cities have designated Chinese as a critical world language and are making substantial efforts to significantly enlarge the pool of young people who are fluent in Chinese.

World Languages Taught at LaSalle II

World Language News

8th Grade Spanish and French Art Gallery Walk!

After exploring artists and styles of both French Impressionism and Spanish Cubism, students were challenged to select a local or global theme and demonstrate it through their own artwork. Students selected themes ranging from: pollution, climate change, poaching, domestic violence, depression, religious intolerance and many more. Students presented their artwork in the target language to […]

Seal of Biliteracy

CPS is the first district in Illinois to create a CPS Seal of Biliteracy Pathway award to recognize exemplary 5th and 8th graders who are studying world language or enrolled in Dual Language programs- providing students with comprehensive programming to develop literacy skills and fluency in both English and another language. More than 1,700 5th […]

World Language Performances

This week our World Language students had the opportunity to show off all they learned in their Artist-in-Residency program. The program is generously funded by the PTO and exposes students to different cultural aspects in the language of their study.

Learning Arabic Calligraphy

Students in grades 5, 6, and 7th have been working with our Artist in residency in creating a very artistic Arabic pieces using the Arabic calligraphy. Each student had about 7 sessions of practice in order for them to reach this great level of art. Our Arabic students practiced Khat al- Nasakh style as it […]

French Exchange Trip

Nine students in 7th and 8th grade just returned this week from a 2 week trip to France! Students stayed for 9 nights with their host families in the town of Angers, about 2 hours outside of Paris. Students explored the town in depth, visiting museums and castles for which this region of France is […]