Delaware Announces New Language Initiatives, Partnership with Chinese Company

The same Chinese company that purchased a distressed Delaware auto plant last year announced Wednesday it will pay for Delaware students to study abroad in China.

Wanxiang, an auto manufacturer, will offer $450,000 to support students trips in 2015 and 2016. Each trip will last four weeks and accommodate 24 students.

Governor Jack Markell hailed the effort as part of his push to expand language education in Delaware.

"This is an initiative that is near and dear to my heart," Markell said. "I firmly believe, students, that we do our kids a disservice when we lead you to believe that speaking English is enough."

Markell also announced that six new schools will join his World Language Expansion Initiative, a program that provides language immersion for students starting in kindergarten and continuing through eighth grade. Next year will be the initiative's fourth. Its numbers are expected to grow from 1,400 to 2,300 as a result of the latest expansion.

"The bottom line for me is when Spanish companies or companies from Latin America or Chinese companies are considering where in the United States to expand, I want Delaware to be at the top of the list," Markell said. "We have a lot of things going for us in the state and I believe we can aspire to be the most bilingual state."

Markell said that Spanish companies, for instance, look first to states such as Florida and Texas when expanding U.S. operations. He believes Delaware can compete with those states by committing to language education.

Markell downplayed the connection between Wanxiang's investment in Delaware students and its investment in Delaware real estate. Wanxiang bought a former General Motors plant from the electric car manufacturer Fisker last March after Fisker went bankrupt.

"This is really unrelated to that," said Markell. "When we had dinner with their chairman and founder a few months ago he mentioned his interest in supporting this type of program. We think this is a wonderful opportunity for Delaware students who are studying Chinese to actually have a chance all expenses paid to go to China."

The Wanxiang-supported study abroad program is an extension of President Barack Obama's 100,000 strong initiative, which encourages U.S. students to study in China. Delaware students hoping to participate in the summer trip will have to apply by March.

Meanwhile, on the home front, six schools will gear up to offer language immersion next year. They are Silver Lake and Townsend Elementary Schools in the Appoquinimink School District, Claymont Elementary School in the Brandywine School District, Wilbur and New Castle Elementary Schools in the Colonial School District, and East Dover Elementary in the Capital School District.

Students participating in the immersion programs will spend half their day learning in either Spanish or Mandarin Chinese.

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