ATLANTA - The number of Georgia public schools offering classes in Chinese has climbed from two to 20 in the past five years, following a national growth trend in the number of schools teaching the foreign language.
Nationally, Chinese was taught at about 5,000 schools in 2000, compared with an estimated 50,000 now, according to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages.
"It's been growing by leaps and bounds, faster than any other language," said Marty Abbott, the director of education for the council.
Last year, President Bush announced the National Security Language Initiative to increase proficiency in Chinese, Arabic, Farsi, Hindi and Russian as a matter of national security. Chinese has proven the most popular.
"It's the Chinese economy and their dominance in the world market," Ms. Abbott said. "People are looking toward the future and want students to be ready."
That's why leaders at New Life Academy and the Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology started teaching Chinese.
Alphonsa Foward Jr., the director of New Life Academy, said his pupils are expected to be bilingual by the end of eight years at the school. The elementary and middle school opened in August with about 200 pupils.
"Chinese is a business language," Mr. Foward said. "We are preparing children for the world business market. We are putting our students above the rest."
The course is taught at Peachtree Ridge High in Suwanee, where about one in four students is Asian.
Liuxi "Louis" Meng, the coordinator of the Chinese program at Kennesaw State University, said schools throughout the South have called looking for teachers. He said the college will have a master's degree program in teaching Chinese ready by summer 2008.
"We're expecting the interest to keep growing," Mr. Meng said.
Regardless of global social or political interests, some students signed up for Chinese because they thought it would be interesting.
Ashley Murray, a junior at Peachtree Ridge, said she's having fun learning the language.
"It gets so boring studying Spanish or French or German every year," she said. "Sometimes you just want to study something different. And if this helps me later in life, it's just a bonus."