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Worldwide audience uses website to learn increasingly popular language

July 21, 2008 NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J.

When Ching-I Tu was hired in 1966 as the first person at Rutgers to teach Chinese, the university had no Asian language department. So Tu occupied an academic limbo of sorts at the Graduate School, teaching just one section of elementary Chinese and a course in Asian culture that year. But the explosion in New Jersey's Asian population coupled with China's rise as a world economic power would have a dramatic impact over the next four decades.

Today, Rutgers has one of the largest Chinese language programs in the middle Atlantic region, with more than 1,000 students at all levels of instruction. The combined enrollment of Asian language classes in Chinese, Japanese and Korean is second only to Spanish at the university.

"Like a child, we grow year by year," said Tu, who has chaired the Department of Asian Languages and Culture and its predecessors for the past 28 years.

Next month, he will accept on behalf of Rutgers an international award for the computerized teaching system he conceived more than 20 years ago that now enables not only Rutgers students but also Internet users around the world to learn and practice Chinese. The 2008 World Languages Classics Award will be presented by MERLOT - Multimedia Educational Resources for Learning and Online Teaching - at its international conference in Minneapolis. It is the first time a system on non-Western languages has been honored by the organization.

MERLOT is a worldwide online community for educators and students to share learning materials and teaching strategies. It emphasizes the development and use of technology-based instructional materials and collaborative initiatives in the development of shareable resources.

Tu spearheaded the development of the Rutgers Multimedia Chinese Teaching System (RMCTS) in 1986 as a computer-based supplement to classroom instruction for first- and second-year and advanced Chinese courses. Over the years, support to develop and improve the system came from the federal and state government, private grants and from the university. Many contributors at Rutgers worked on content and functionality.

The system enables students to practice reading, speaking and listening with comprehensive drills in grammar and vocabulary. User-friendly lessons present traditional and simplified Chinese characters and include English translations. Lessons also include vocabulary, grammar notes, sentence patterns and exercises, as well as audio of the entire text.

In 1997 with the support of a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, the system went online at http://chinese.rutgers.edu/index_e.htm, enabling anyone to learn and practice Chinese. It also made it possible for other institutions to integrate it into their own instructional programs. Tu and his colleagues frequently receive e-mail from grateful Internet users around the globe. He believes all the positive chatter brought the system to the attention of MERLOT. Peer reviewers gave it high marks for its content quality, effectiveness as a teaching tool and ease of use. See review.

The MERLOT award is the latest in a series of accomplishments by the Department of Asian Languages and Culture. Last year, a Confucius Institute opened at Rutgers in partnership with Jilin University in China to enhance and expand the university's programs in Chinese language, literature and culture for students and New Jersey residents.

Distance-learning technology now makes the department's elementary Chinese, Japanese and Korean language courses available to students on the Newark Campus - the only language courses at Rutgers that are taught this way.

In addition, the department is helping to meet the state's growing need for advanced K-12 teacher training in Chinese through its MAT (Master of Arts for Teaching) program, offered through the Graduate School-New Brunswick.

Tu sees no slowing of demand for Chinese language and culture programs. "In the foreseeable future, Chinese could become the second most taught language in higher education in the United States, second only to Spanish," he said.

Contact: Sandra Lanman
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