Cantonese course now fulfills undergraduate language requirement

Oct. 12, 2022, 11:00 p.m.

The University is offering three Cantonese courses on campus this fall, including CHINLANG 14A: “First-Year Cantonese, First quarter,” which fulfills a quarter of the University’s undergraduate language requirement.

The change follows more than a year of student and alumni activism led by organizers with Save Cantonese that began after Stanford axed the Cantonese program’s only lectureship in December 2020 following budget cuts.

Save Cantonese, an advocacy group, said CHINLANG 14A is the first Cantonese course to fulfill the language requirement since 2007. Stanford’s language requirement can be met by students completing the first-year sequence in a language, with each course counting for four or five units.

A University spokesperson wrote that language courses are offered based on student demand, and a September email from Save Cantonese announcing the courses warned, “The future of Cantonese at Stanford depends on your enrollment!”

Organizers said a recent donation catalyzed the reintroduction of Cantonese courses at Stanford. A donation of $1 million made in January by a Milpitas-based wholesale grocery supplier S.J. Distributors made Cantonese the first and only language instruction program to be endowed at Stanford, a University spokesperson confirmed in January.

“We want the gift to be a living, accessible bridge between the past and the future for students, for scholars and for all those who love the Cantonese culture,” S.J. Distributors Chief Executive Officer Scott Suen told The Daily in February. 

Cantonese is spoken by 60% of Chinese speakers in the Bay Area, and about half of Chinese speakers in California, according to the September email from Save Cantonese.

The University is also offering two conversational Cantonese courses on campus — CHINLANG 18: “Intermediate Conversational Cantonese, First Quarter” and CHINLANG 25A: “Advanced Conversational Cantonese.”

According to Explore Courses, the second and third quarters of the first-year Cantonese sequence that fulfills the language requirement will be offered in the winter and spring and taught by Xinjie Chen, coordinator of the Cantonese language program.

“Cantonese courses consisting of reading, writing, listening and speaking that are 4 or 5 units have always fulfilled the language requirement,” wrote School of Humanities and Sciences spokesperson Joy Leighton in a statement to The Daily, bolding the word “always.”

Leighton, who responded on behalf of the University and language center director Elizabeth Bernhardt-Kamil, added, “Two-unit conversation courses in all languages do not meet the language requirement.”

Shawn Lee ’16 M.S. ’17 M.S. ’19, the policy director for Save Cantonese, said the addition of the class that satisfies the language requirement brings the University one step closer toward making the Cantonese program “a place that can support scholarship at the highest level.”

Lee said that while the addition of the language-requirement-fulfilling course marks a critical milestone for Save Cantonese, Lee added that Save Cantonese still hopes to see intermediate and advanced classes that go beyond teaching conversational skills offered and properly compensated in the future. 

The addition of the language requirement “speaks clearly to the importance that the community places in these programs and really is a shining example of that collaboration,” Lee said.

Rani is a reporter for The Daily's news section. Contact her at news 'at' stanforddaily.com.

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