Engage American Adults in Learning Chinese as a Foreign Language

Minmin Fan

Seton Hall University


The development of Chinese language in the United States is currently at a booming stage. It is an exciting time because the field is expanding rapidly and the number of people learning Chinese language has increased exponentially over the past few years. K-12 schools in all parts of America rush to offering instruction in Chinese. Language education programs are also started for adult learners who want to learn Chinese. Chinese language education achieves popularity not only among heritage learners but also among those completely new to Chinese.

Just as the demand for Chinese language programs is growing across the country, Chinese language teachers are exposed to a host of challenges: How to prepare American learners to reach sophisticated levels of proficiency in Chinese? What are the learnersí expectations? What do they want and need to be able to do in Chinese? What do I want the learners to be able to do in Chinese? How do I structure things so that the learners develop the ability to do those things?

Unlike students in K-12 programs, adult learners generally have more concerns about family, jobs, money, transportation, fatigue, and other realistic and practical issues. All these factors might inhibit their full engagement in class. Therefore, teachers of adults learning Chinese as a foreign language often find themselves obliged to compete with more demands on learnersí attention: What is an adult learnerís motivation to engage? What should the instructor do to keep the adult learner motivated and engaged? How can an American adult effectively and efficiently learn Chinese? What should an American adult do inside and outside of the classroom to improve his literacy levels in Chinese?

This paper is to investigate how to promote learning engagement when teaching American adults who learn Chinese as a foreign language. This paper will commence by examining the trend of learning Chinese in the United States and the call for better engaging learners in instruction. Then, theories of language acquisition and researches on learner engagement in language-learning settings will be reviewed. Afterwards, specific instructional strategies will be introduced, followed by a description on how these strategies can be employed to promote the engagement of American adults learning Chinese as a foreign language. Finally, limitations of this investigation will be discussed and recommendations will be made for further research on learner engagement in this population.