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City College trustee launches plan to save Cantonese language program

With the Cantonese language program at City College of San Francisco facing elimination due to budget cuts, a City College Trustee on Wednesday announced a proposal to save the program – which he said is essential for the city’s historic Chinese community.

For the upcoming Spring semester, City College will only offer one Cantonese class.

According to City College Board Trustee Alan Wong, because the program doesn’t offer a certificate, it’s likely to be cut as community colleges receive funding partially based on success outcomes measured by degrees and certificates.

Wong has proposed setting City College on a path to include Cantonese classes in degree and certificate granting programs by establishing transfer agreements with four-year institutions like the University of California, so that Cantonese classes would be counted towards a degree. In addition, Wong’s proposal calls for City College to develop a certificate for Cantonese classes.

Wong noted that his proposal would not generate new costs for the financially challenged school.

“Saving the Cantonese program is not only about protecting Chinese culture, language, and history. It is also about the very practical need to ensure that our very large Cantonese speaking Chinese community has access to public safety, healthcare, and social services,” he said in a statement. “Reduction of the program would be the erasure of an entire population that needs bilingual services.”

Cantonese is the most language most commonly spoken by the city’s Chinese community.

Although Cantonese classes serve several different purposes for students, Wong said the classes also serve public safety, health care, and social workers who serve Chinese residents.

Wong’s proposal is being backed by more than 20 community organizations, including Self Help for the Elderly, Chinese Hospital, Chinatown Community Children’s Center, and Chinese for Affirmative Action, among others.

“Health and safety is on the mind of the Chinese elderly. Many are cooped up at home and afraid to come out. Our senior community is getting inadequate access to social and victim support services due to the language barrier. The elderly often decide not to ask for help or call 911 because they don’t believe that anybody will be able to talk to them,” Self Help for the Elderly President and CEO Anni Chung said. “Helping the younger generation become bilingual will the close communication gaps our seniors face.”

“It’s hard for victims needing interpretation to use a phone interpretation app to communicate during an emergency. When victims hear me speak Cantonese, immediate trust is established and the victim is relieved,” said paramedic and firefighter Doug Mei with the Asian Firefighters Association. “Unfortunately, we don’t have enough bilingual first responders with adequate language skills. That’s where the City College classes come in.”

Earlier this year, college officials cited low enrollment as part of the reason the school faced a budget shortfall of more than $22.7 million and was considering budget cuts, including staff layoffs and the elimination of several programs.

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