At the Driscoll public schools in Brookline, Mass., the kindergartners already know more Chinese than most Americans will learn in a lifetime.
The second graders can string sentences together, and the eighth graders are nearly fluent. In this school system, learning Mandarin is mandatory.
Carol Schraft, principal of the Michael Driscoll School, said the goal is to "educate children for the world as it's going to be -- not of the world we're living in now."
Economists predict that by the time these five year olds enter the job market, China will be the world's second-largest economy.
"If we want to be doing business in China, we are going to need students who can function in Chinese and understand Chinese culture," said Vivian Stewart, vice president of the Asia Society.
School districts from Philadelphia to Portland, Ore., are now adding Mandarin programs.
"I'm not really sure what I want to be when I grow up, but I figure Chinese will keep me more prepared for whatever it is," said eighth grader Samsun Knight.
Next fall the College Board will offer Chinese advanced placement tests for the first time. Employment agencies report a surge in demand for Mandarin speaking babysitters from parents who want their children to start learning young.
The Driscoll teachers like to tell their students that if they learn Chinese, they will be able to communicate with nearly a third of the world's population -- the seven percent who speak English, and the 18 percent who speak Mandarin.
Huajing Maske, a teacher in the Driscoll school system, says for students who learn the language, "the younger the better because they are not intimidated by it."
Second grader Hannah McGan agrees.
"Is Chinese hard? Sort of," she said. "Once you start and then it's easier and easier."
The challenge for schools now is to find good instructors. Until more Americans master Mandarin, there will not be many people who are qualified to teach it.
ABC News' Nancy Weiner filed this report for "World News Tonight."