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You want hope for U.S.-China relations? Utah is the gold standard

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With the U.S.-China relationship waffling between antagonistic and somewhat conciliatory (on the U.S. side), many are looking for a glimmer of hope. If there is hope for the U.S.-China relationship, and for returning to increased global economic integration, it will come from Utah in this and the next generation. Why?

Utah’s Roots Reveal Its Desire to Embrace the World

Brigham Young, Utah’s first governor, is famous for stating that Utah would one day welcome the world to its state. That statement has been baked into the ethos of Utahns for generations, from both religious and economic perspectives. Utah hosted the world for the 2002 Winter Olympics and recently became one of two finalists for hosting the 2030 Winter Olympics. Utahns believe internationalism is key to their economic purpose: that being open and outward facing to the world makes Utah more competitive. Utah’s Governor’s Office of Economic Development hosts more than 60 diplomatic visits from up to 30 nations each year.

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Utah Residents Speak 130 Languages, More Than Any Other State

Even though the state’s composition is 87% Caucasian, Utah resident speak 130 languages, which is more than any other state in the U.S., and 120 of those languages are spoken for business purposes. Many Utah residents and their family members have lived abroad for lengthy periods of time. They have learned the languages in-country and appreciate international cultures. As a result, they see the world’s citizens differently, not as outsiders who threaten their existence but as friends to embrace and with whom to do business.

Utah’s Schoolchildren Are Learning Foreign Languages in Dual Immersion Programs

Utah is home to 3.2 million people, which is less than 1% of the U.S. population, but its schoolchildren comprise 20% of those in Mandarin dual language immersion programs nationwide.

Utah’s many residents who speak foreign languages have pushed for more internationalism in their schools, wanting to provide more opportunities for their children to be competitive internationally in their future careers. In 2008 the Utah Senate created the Critical Language Bill with the support of then-Governor Jon Huntsman, Jr. (who is fluent in Mandarin from time spent in Taiwan as a young man). The primary sponsor of the bill, then-Senator Howard Stephenson, had traveled to China and determined Utah should be the vanguard state in producing school age children fluent in Chinese and other foreign languages. Utah’s dual language program was born out of those efforts. Utah initially aimed to have 30,000 children in its dual language programs by 2015, and that goal was met in 2014. This year there are over 53,000 students enrolled. Children in the dual language immersion programs begin in first grade, where they spend half their school days learning in Chinese, German, French, Portuguese, Spanish, or Russian in one of 224 school programs. The dual language immersion program has never been tainted by political concerns. Utah’s legislative and executive branches have been in sync in their desire to have Utah’s children stand out among their peers. Utah is home to 3.2 million people, which is less than 1% of the U.S. population, but its schoolchildren comprise 20% of those in Mandarin dual language immersion programs nationwide. As these children mature and enter the workforce (the first class graduated high school in May 2019), they will have nearly earned a minor in the foreign language they have been speaking since they were in elementary school.

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