by Mu Dong
WASHINGTON, June 1 (Xinhua) -- In a classroom decorated with paintings featuring Chinese folk tales and cute symbols of Chinese characters, a dozen of local children, from five to eight years old, are performing popular Chinese songs, such as "Daddy, where are we going" and "Stars in the Sky."
Anna, a seven-year-old girl, has studied Chinese for two years in the Confucius Classroom of Washington Yuying Public Charter School, a Chinese-immersion education organization.
Founded in 2008, the school is aimed to inspire and prepare kids to create a better world by challenging them to reach their full potential in a nurturing Chinese educational environment.
So far, the school's steady development and great progress of its Chinese-immersion teaching model have captured widespread attention.
From Monday to Friday every week, Anna spends two hours learning Chinese here, enjoying the charm of the language by writing characters, playing games, and reciting the "Three Character Primer," or San Zi Jing, one of the ancient Chinese classic texts.
During class, Anna was not nervous at all. She and other kids were eager to introduce themselves and teach visitors how to say "Hello," "Thank You" and "Goodbye" in Chinese.
"I haven't been to China yet, but I will go there in a few years," the girl said in fluent Chinese.
"When she grows up, she will definitely have to communicate with Chinese. I hope she learns Chinese as early as possible," said Anna's mother.
"I have to spend more on this, but I think it's worth it, because what they will get is a lifelong skill for kids," the woman added.
In March, the kids shared their trips to Chinese cities such as Beijing, Xi'an and Shanghai with U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama.
"Yuying has set an example and I wish there will be more schools that will enable kids to know about the rest of the world," she said during a visit to the school.
The first lady told the kids that it is extremely important for American students to immerse themselves into foreign languages and cultures at a school like Yuying, if they truly desire to learn more about other countries.
Yu Zaohe, a teacher at the Confucius Classroom, said courses here will help the kids improve fluency in Chinese, which develops a greater ability to understand the Chinese culture.
The school has been expanding over the past six years due to strong demand from parents, who believe that the Chinese language should be taught as early as possible.
"Most parents are living in nearby residential districts. Many of them are interested in Chinese culture, have studied abroad, have some Chinese friends, or even can speak a little Chinese, so they attach more importance to children's Chinese learning," Yu said.
"I didn't expect so much on American parents' passion for Chinese learning before I came to teach here. Now I find Chinese is warmly welcomed here and the job is so meaningful," she added.
According to Yu, more than 1,000 kids will apply for only 30 enrollment each semester.
Chen Weiping, district director of the Hope Chinese School (HCS), the largest Chinese school in Washington, said more and more local people have realized the importance of early Chinese learning.
"Mandarin Chinese, spoken by one in five people worldwide, is an important language for American children to learn, especially as connections between the U.S. and China become increasingly intertwined," he said.
The HCS has witnessed fast development since its establishment 20 years ago. It now has 4,000 students from kindergarten to grade 12, who are studying in seven branches across Washington.
Liu Quansheng, founder of the Confucius Institute in Maryland University, said there are nearly 100 Confucius institutes and over 300 Confucius classrooms across the United States.
They are playing a role as an education platform that provides local youngsters with a shortcut for knowledge on the Chinese language and culture before traveling to China, Liu noted.
"The Chinese learning emphasizes communication, interactivity and the practical use of the oriental language and culture," he said.