Learning a foreign language in high school is moving beyond the typical Spanish, French and German courses to include Chinese, Russian, Japanese and Arabic in school districts around the midstate.
Xuan Li, a visiting professor for the Confucius Institute at the University of Pittsburgh, is teaching Mandarin Chinese at Carlisle High School this year in a cooperative program through Dickinson College.
Derry Twp. School District also offers Chinese and Japanese through an online program, and Palmyra Area School District has two students taking Arabic this year.
"When would have the chance to learn Chinese in your life for free?" said Carlisle High School student Alex Rietmann, who is one of 11 in the class taught by Li.
"I took it because I thought it would be challenging," said student Zachery Kanneg. "It is, but it's fun. I love it."
"It's almost like learning two languages at once, because you have to learn the pronunciation and the characters. It's a lot more memorization," said Andrew Heddleson.
Li also teaches at Dickinson College, which offers 13 languages, including 50 students studying Chinese, said Neil Weissman, college provost.
While the college works with the school district in various ways, Weissman said he can't recall a visiting professor being shared in this manner before with the district.
Karen Quinn, Carlisle Area School District curriculum coordinator, said the district was going to offer Chinese and Japanese through Aventa Learning, an online program, when Dickinson approached them regarding the Confucius Institute instructor.
Arabic is another language in demand, which Dickinson also offers, said Weissman.
Two Palmyra Area School District students are taking Arabic this year in an online program through Blendedschools.net's language institute.
Junior Nate Sutherland said he wanted to take Arabic because he's interested in a career in the military and politics. "With what's going on in our country, it's important we learn about this stuff and learn the cultural differences so we understand each other," Sutherland said.
Senior Trevor Donley, a senior who wants to study biology in college, said he wanted to expand on the Arabic he learned on a mission trip to Egypt as an eighth grader. "When colleges are looking at your transcript and see Arabic, they're like 'Wow' — they really turn their heads, " Donley said.
"Giving the students the ability to have a conversation with somebody live, whether a classmate or a teacher, where they get that immediate feedback, is very important in language learning," said Evon Zundel, coordinator of Blendedschools.net's online language institute.
Languages such as Arabic, Chinese, Russian and Japanese — with Hindi added this year — are termed "critical" languages, due to the demand from people wanting to learn them, but lack of instructors.
"They are also deemed very important for today's world," Zundel said, not only for communication but cultural understanding. "We are putting ourselves on a path to put people out there who are willing to understand each other in this world where there so much mistrust," she said.