Bixia Pan, director of The Window to China, sees a future where interest in Chinese-language classes blossom in the East Coast like they already have in the West.
She's already begun to lay the groundwork for that with after-school classes being taught at three Anne Arundel County schools, and the Jing Ying Institute in Arnold.
"If the country wants to grow stronger, then they really need to stay in a competitive position," Pan said.
In China, children begin learning English in kindergarten and elementary school. Pan said she believes more Americans will begin to seek out Mandarin-language classes to keep pace with the changing business markets.
Pan has more than 20 students in Arnold, and with more classes being offered in the fall at Arnold Elementary Davidson Elementary and Severna Park Elementary, she said that number could double or triple in a matter of months. Her long-term goal is to open an official Chinese-language school in Maryland, but for now she's just following her passion.
"I really enjoy teaching," she said. "I feel like something is leading me to teach."
Her classes are given in small-group settings, with children learning through stories, songs games, dancing and crafts and adults learning through an interactive style, incorporating role-playing and practice through different scenarios.
Pan started her professional career as a teacher in China, then was trained as an engineer in England. After doing work overseas for a number of years, she said she came back to teaching because of her passion for it. She also said she saw an opportunity in the lack of Mandarin-language classes offered in the East Coast of America.
In California, Pan said she has a friend with more than 300 students, and she said that could just be the beginning.
Pan's students now are mostly children, but she also has older students. She said children seem to have a knack for picking up on new languages more quickly than adults. She has a 3-year-old student who often gets the older children in line, issuing commands in Mandarin.
Pan said learning a foreign language carries direct and indirect benefits for children.
"I do believe that people who learn a foreign language, not just Chinese, they're helping their brain learn quicker and be able to contain more information," she said. "It's not a robotic exercise. It's active, and organic."
More information on Pan's classes are available on her website, The Window to China.