Following a segment on American school children learning Chinese as a second language at the end of Wednesday's CBS Evening News, anchor Katie Couric tried her hand at reciting part of her sign off in Mandarin, telling viewers, "míngtianjiàn wanan," meaning, "See you tomorrow, good night." [Audio available here]
In the prior report, correspondent Terry McCarthy was critical of Americans for not having better foreign language skills: "Americans generally assume everyone speaks English....But Americans do not generally share such multilingual talents." He then cheered efforts in one Los Angeles elementary school to teach Chinese alongside English, starting in Kindergarten: "These kids have been studying Chinese for four years and they're pretty good....the Chinese immersion program is so popular, they have a waiting list."
View video below
McCarthy described how interest in the program was "driven by interest in China's $6 trillion economy, now the second biggest in the world." The teacher of the class, Theresa Kao, argued: "Learning Chinese as a second language will help their children to be able to find a better job later on."
McCarthy's reference to China's impending economic dominance in the world, combined with Couric's brief effort to make the broadcast bilingual, was reminiscent of cartoon TV newsman Kent Brockman.
Here is a full transcript of the January 19 segment:
6:53PM ET TEASE:
KATIE COURIC: And coming up next, learning Chinese along with their ABCs.
6:56PM ET SEGMENT:
KATIE COURIC: At the White House today, China's president said young people are the future of the relationship between his country and the U.S. He said it in Mandarin, a language most Americans don't understand. But Terry McCarthy tells us there are some American children who don't have to wait for the translation.
TERRY MCCARTHY: Americans generally assume everyone speaks English.
[CLIP OF MOVIE 'RUSH HOUR']
CHRIS TUCKER: Do you speaka any English?
MCCARTHY: Often they exceed our expectations. Former Chinese President Jiang Zemin surprised Mike Wallace in 2000 by reciting the Gettysburg Address in English.
JIANG ZEMIN: Four score and seven years ago.
MCCARTHY: Even the French president speaks English, kind of.
NICHOLAS SARKOZY: We will be happy to help you make money in France.
MCCARTHY: But Americans do not generally share such multilingual talents.
BARACK OBAMA: I don't speak a foreign language. It's embarrassing.
MCCARTHY: Instead of struggling with foreign grammar, Americans would rather struggle with headphones to hear the translation. But not in City Terrace Public School in east Los Angeles. Where 90 students have been learning Chinese since Kindergarten
[CHILD SPEAKING CHINESE]
MCCARTHY: Like his classmates, Nelson Enriquez even has his own Chinese name.
MCCARTHY [IN CHINESE]: What is your Chinese name?
NELSON ENRIQUEZ [IN CHINESE]: My name is Han Rui Ke.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN [TEACHER, CITY TERRACE ELEMENTARY]: Five years old, they're like little sponges.
MCCARTHY: Nelson's family speaks Spanish at home so he is trilingual, which the eight-year-old is already planning to exploit.
ENRIQUEZ: I'm going to get a better job, and a raise, too.
MCCARTHY: These kids have been studying Chinese for four years and they're pretty good, but this is an unusual school. Across the country, only 50,000 American school kids are studying Chinese. In China, by contrast, there are 200 million students learning English. The numbers are increasing. A decade ago, about 300 schools in the U.S. taught Chinese. Now it's close to 1600, driven by interest in China's $6 trillion economy, now the second biggest in the world. At City Terrace, the Chinese immersion program is so popular, they have a waiting list.
THERESA KAO [TEACHER, CITY TERRACE ELEMENTARY]: Learning Chinese as a second language will help their children to be able to find a better job later on.
MCCARTHY: And then there are the hidden benefits. Why do you think your parents wanted you to learn Chinese?
NATALIE LOVE [STUDENT, CITY TERRACE ELEMENTARY]: I think they wanted me to learn Chinese because they like to go to Chinese restaurants.
MCCARTHY: Two languages, two cultures, and no one at a loss for words. Terry McCarthy, CBS News, Los Angeles.
COURIC: And that is the CBS Evening News for tonight. I'm Katie Couric. Thank you for watching.
COURIC [IN CHINESE]: míngtianjiàn wanan (See you tomorrow, good night).
— Kyle Drennen is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.