Newswise — A state-of-the-art, U.S.-funded Web site developed by the University of Maryland's National Foreign Language Center is now live online to help teach high school students to read Chinese and to provide essential classroom support for teachers. The developers say the new tool fills a vital and previously unmet national need.

Read Chinese!, , is especially geared to high school-age students, but can also be used by adults. It is available free for classroom and individual use. Students need at least an elementary knowledge of Chinese characters. The material is available using the more traditional characters (full-form) or the newer ones (simplified). Also, the material can be downloaded free of charge to a CD or DVD.

"This is an absolutely essential step if we are going to jumpstart the process of teaching this critical language," says Myriam Met, who is directing the Read Chinese! project at the University of Maryland's National Foreign Language Center. "The nation simply doesn't have the infrastructure to meet the groundswell of interest by schools, business and government for instruction in Chinese. This new Website will help make up for the shortage of trained teachers and high-quality teaching materials."

Met and her team at the National Foreign Language Center are developing the site over three years, with an approximately $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education. They focused on adolescents because learning languages " particularly ones so different from English " at an earlier age results in higher skill levels. The current material represents the first of a three-year curriculum.

"This technology can help assure that we use the precious, limited teacher time that's available as effectively as possible," Met says. "Let the technology do what it can do best, and free teachers to do what they alone can do, such as conduct face-to-face feedback sessions to develop speaking skills. Also, the site will give teachers and students access to much more material than is currently available. We've applied the best practices and the most rigorous standards, yet in an appealing way."

Read Chinese! offers new learners a chance to practice basic reading through a series of carefully framed exercises addressing useful and contemporary topics, such as the 2007 Academy Awards, how to buy supplies, how to introduce oneself in a social situation and navigating the calendar.

System requirements for the Website: Currently configured for Windows PC-only equipped with speakers or headphones; Operating System: Windows 98, 2000 or XP; Browser: Internet Explorer 5.5 and above, Netscape XX and Firefox.

The National Foreign Language Center is dedicated to understanding and addressing the nation's needs for languages other than English. The Center implements that mission through intensive and innovative strategic planning, research and development in cooperation with academic institutions, organizations, and enterprises in the United States and abroad.

The NFLC is part of the intensive language research and education efforts at the University of Maryland, including the university's Center for Advanced Study of Language, the largest U.S. national language research facility, and Department of Defense funded National Flagship Language Programs in Arabic and Persian. More online: