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Character Literacy Acquisition in Mandarin Immersion Classrooms: Lessons from More- and Less-Proficient Readers

March 23, 2019

A workshop in June for teachers. CARLA does great immersion workshops.

Character Literacy Acquisition in Mandarin Immersion Classrooms: Lessons from More- and Less-Proficient Readers

June 17-19, 2019Language Teachers

Promoting high levels of character literacy among immersion learners is arguably one of the Chinese immersion teacher’s greatest challenges. During this three-day institute, participants will examine key findings from CARLA’s research study comparing Mandarin Immersion (MI) students’ use of strategic reading processes in Chinese (L2) and English (L1). Together we will explore similarities and differences in the oral reading behaviors of more- and less-proficient MI readers, analyze the nature of common substitution errors, and compare decoding and comprehension processes between languages and learner groups. Bridging research to practice, we will work collaboratively to identify and learn about instructional practices that move MI learners towards more fluent character processing and improved text comprehension.

Tara Fortune is the Immersion Program director at CARLA and will serve as the lead instructor and institute facilitator. She devotes most of her professional time to the preparation and continuing education of immersion educators throughout the United States and abroad. She oversees research initiatives in immersion that have recently included a focus on strategic character literacy development.

Zhongkui Ju is a Ph.D. candidate in the Second Language Education Program at the University of Minnesota. He has served as a research assistant for the Immersion Projects at CARLA for the past four years. His dissertation research focuses on Pinyin and character literacy in early total Mandarin immersion contexts.

Molly Wieland is the program coordinator for the XinXing Chinese Immersion Program in Hopkins Public Schools (Hopkins, MN). She has been involved in the development of the district’s first Mandarin Chinese immersion program since it began in 2007. Molly oversees curriculum and staff development for K-11 Mandarin immersion teachers. As a parent of a student in the program, she offers both the perspective of program specialist and parent.

Guest presenters will include several veteran immersion teachers and specialists who will share their expertise at the institute.

Target Audience: K–8 Mandarin immersion teachers, program coordinators, and administrators.

Additional Resources for Immersion Educators:

  • Immersion Research-to-Action Briefs
    • How Can Learner Language Inform Mandarin Immersion Teaching?
    • Secondary Immersion Teaching and Learning: What Role do Classroom Materials Play?
    • Preschool Immersion Education in Persian
    • Reading Strategies: At Risk and High Performing Immersion Learners

Babies who hear two languages at home develop advantages in attention

March 19, 2019

I recently spoke to parents at Hudson Way Immersion School in New York City and at their campus in Stirling, New Jersey. One question that came up from several families where at least one parent speaks another language was the value of raising bilingual children. There is a great deal of research showing it’s excellent for children. This is only the most recent study I’ve seen.


Six-month-old babies who are brought up hearing more than one language show advantages in early development of attention

TORONTO, Jan. 30, 2019 – The advantages of growing up in a bilingual home can start as early as six months of age, according to new research led by York University’s Faculty of Health. In the study, infants who are exposed to more than one language show better attentional control than infants who are exposed to only one language. This means that exposure to bilingual environments should be considered a significant factor in the early development of attention in infancy, the researchers say, and could set the stage for lifelong cognitive benefits.

The research was conducted by Ellen Bialystok, Distinguished Research Professor of Psychology and Walter Gordon Research Chair of Lifespan Cognitive Development at York University and Scott Adler, associate professor in York’s Department of Psychology and the Centre for Vision Research, along with lead author Kyle J. Comishen, a former Master’s student in their lab. It will be published January 30, 2019 in Developmental Science.

The researchers conducted two separate studies in which infants’ eye movements were measured to assess attention and learning. Half of the infants who were studied were being raised in monolingual environments while others were being raised in environments in which they heard two languages spoken approximately half of the time each. The infants were shown images as they lay in a crib equipped with a camera and screen, and their eye movements were tracked and recorded as they watched pictures appear above them, in different areas of the screen. The tracking was conducted 60 times for each infant.

Please read more here.

And check out the video here.

Mandarin sleep away camp in Taiwan

March 15, 2019

Update: I’ll be meeting in San Francisco with the owner of the SkyKids Taiwan camp this weekend. If anyone has questions, please send them on to me.



Sky Kids is a Taiwanese-run summer program that takes place in San Francisco for  students from China and Taiwan.  Several high school students from the San Francisco Public Schools Mandarin immersion program work there as counselors, so I’ve been hearing about it for a few years now. Local Mandarin immersion families also sometimes host kids coming over, as a way for their children to get a chance to hang out with a Chinese speaker in the summer. 

This year, for the first time, Sky Kids is doing the reverse — a summer camp in Taiwan for English-speaking students who want to immerse themselves in Chinese. At least two San Francisco Mandarin immersion high school students are going over to Taiwan to work in the camp this summer (I know both kids, and their families, and they’re great.)

That said, I’ve never had a child attend the camp and therefore can’t vouch for it. But I thought it might be of interest to families with children in Mandarin immersion. – Beth

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2019 Sky Kids Mandarin Immersion Camps @ Taiwan

After 5 years of running our own Mandarin camps and enrichment programs in San Francisco, we are ready to take Mandarin Immersion and Cultural Exchange to the next level in 2019!


1) Provide a culturally immersive environment for students to learn and practice Mandarin with local children and teachers.

2) Continue to provide fun and effective ways to learn and practice Mandarin!


1) Setup school-year programs with K-6th grade schools in the greater Taipei area that allow foreign students to attend classes alongside local Taiwanese students.

2) Work with local schools in the greater Taipei area that will offer their own Summer Camps.


1) Similar learning framework and method as that of Sky Kids (i.e. project-based, fun, and interactive learning).

2) Public/private schools with quality programs in the greater Taipei area, instruction in Mandarin only (no bi-lingual or international schools).

Local Support

1) For parents who are traveling with students joining our program in Taiwan, you will have access to local customer support to help answer questions related to travel, food, living, and/or local activities for parents and kids.

2) Students that are 9 or older can opt for our homestay add-on package. Our host families are reviewed and selected by us, just like in San Francisco, and some of them have also attended in our San Francisco-based Sky Kids camps. (N.B. Parents cannot stay with host families but you are welcome to visit them!).

More info here.

Program profiles:Barnard Asian Pacific Language Academy

March 9, 2019

From our friends at The Asia Society’s Chinese Early Learning and Immersion Network

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Barnard Asian Pacific Language Academy
San Diego, California
Serves students in grades K-5

Barnard Asian Pacific Language Academy, located in beautiful San Diego, California, is the only public school in the San Diego Unified School District that offers Mandarin immersion. In 2007, the school started a Mandarin FLES class. In 2010, the school launched a Mandarin immersion program for students in kindergarten and grade 1.

In kindergarten, 80% of the Mandarin instruction is taught by a native Chinese teacher, who teaches Chinese literacy, math, social studies, science, music, and art. English instruction (20% of instruction time) is taught by a native English teacher and focuses on English language arts. From grades 1-5, the program follows a 50% Mandarin and 50% English model. In addition to language arts, the partner teachers have shared responsibilities for teaching math, social studies, science, music, and art in their specific language.

Please read more here.

Chinese immersion thriving in western Michigan

March 5, 2019

Greenville Public Schools Chinese Immersion Program

Greenville Public Schools is located in one of Michigan’s prime living areas, between Grand Rapids and Lansing. The district includes the city of Greenville and parts of seven townships in three counties in West Michigan. It has a history of strong education, many recreational areas, and industrial opportunities. Proximity to Grand Rapids provides many cultural, recreational, and educational advantages. It is 133.6 square miles in size and has a population of about 18,000. Our immersion program is the only one in our intermediate school district.

Plans for Mandarin immersion in Greenville began with the district’s participation in the China Bridge Program. A partnership between our school district and the College Board’s Chinese Guest Teacher Program was formed, and the first group of students began learning Mandarin in 2012. Staff, community members, and parents work together to ensure that immersion students receive the education necessary to participate as responsible global citizens in an ever-changing world. Currently, more than 300 students are learning about Chinese language and culture in grades K–6.

Please read more here.

Mandarin Companion – books for older kids

February 28, 2019

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Unlike even a few years ago, more and more books are becoming available that are both readable by Mandarin immersion students and also age-appropriate. That’s great news, because reading has long been the downfall of MI kids, there just wasn’t anything they could read that was also fun to read. I call it the Captain Underpants problem — where are the books your kid sneaks to read under the covers, in Chinese, as they might with the Captain Underpants series?

One nice addition to this growing collection of readable-yet-fun books come from a two-man publishing house out of Shanghai. Even I have successfully read some of their books (and considering how long ago it was that I studied Chinese, that’s astounding.)

They posted a New Year’s blog post that parents with elementary age students might find interesting, as they’re moving into books for younger readers.

Also, a note that will give immersion parents parents a boost — here’s what they say about who can easily read their Level 1 books:

in high school it is typically 3-4th year Chinese students, in Chinese dual-immersion programs it is usually 4th to 5th grade students, and in College programs it is usually students somewhere in the middle of the second year.

Nice to hear that your 4th grader is reading what it takes a high school student four years to get to!



Mandarin Companion Preview for 2019

To start off the new year right, we want to communicate with you on what we have been working on. Just to bring you up to speed, Mandarin Companion is largely a two-man operation consisting of John and myself. This is why at times it takes us longer to release things than perhaps it would normally.

That being said, we’ve been developing a lot of things behind the scenes. Today we are pulling back the curtain to give you a preview of what Mandarin Companion has in store for you in 2019.

New 150 Character Level Books

Over the years, we’ve received many emails from readers asking for new levels. During the same period, we’ve had the opportunity to attend a number of Chinese language teaching conferences and speak with Chinese teachers about the challenges they face in the classroom. Finding suitable reading materials is a fundamental problem faced by Chinese teachers everywhere. Finding books that are level appropriate for Chinese learners and are fun to read is like finding the holy grail, and for teachers who have used the Mandarin Companion series with students, they absolutely love them and students who do read them experience a lot of progress.

The downside to all of this is that it typically takes students longer than they would like to get to the stage where they can read our level 1 books; in high school it is typically 3-4th year Chinese students, in Chinese dual-immersion programs it is usually 4th to 5th grade students, and in College programs it is usually students somewhere in the middle of the second year. Unfortunately there are too many students who drop out of Chinese programs because they don’t feel like they are making progress or that Chinese is even within their grasp and consequently never reach the level necessary to read a Chinese graded reader. For anyone who has experienced the immense sense of accomplishment from reading an entire book in Chinese, that experience alone has motivated countless readers to continue studying Chinese.

This has given us the impetus to create a new and lower level of Chinese graded readers in a way that has never been done before. Since we have yet to come up with a good name for this level, we are internally referring to it as “level 0”. Similar to our other levels, it will be based on a defined character set and any new words occurring outside of that set will be introduced as keywords accompanied by pinyin and a definition. This new “level 0” will be written at a 150-character standard which essentially comes from half of the level 1, 300-character standard.

The trick about level 0 is that it will not use any new characters outside of the level 1, 300-character standard. That means that any key words used that fall outside of the 150-character standard can only be borrowed from the level 1 standard. Therefore the vocabulary used in the level 0 standard will be very constrained. We have roughly 10 nouns to work with and a very limited set of verbs. Honestly, at the beginning, the task seemed insurmountable, but we organized the possible words we can use and kicked our creativity into high gear to come up with some new stories that can be written at this level, are of substantial length, and are entertaining to read. These level 0 stories will be written at the 150-character standard and will be three to four thousand characters long. Nothing like this exists yet! They’ll be actual books, not just short stories.

These new lower level stories will reach learners at an even earlier stage and not only help to accelerate their learning, but also inspire them to continue learning Chinese. We are working on five stories to be released in 2019 including “Young Sherlock Holmes” and “My Teacher is from Mars”. We plan to launch this new level in spring of 2019. It’s going to be great!

New Podcast

Both John and I have been working in Chinese education for a long time and people are always asking us for advice about learning Chinese. We find ourselves talking to so many people that we wanted to find a better way to reach out and help even more people through their trek towards Chinese proficiency.

Therefore, in early 2019, we have decided to launch the “You Can Learn Chinese” podcast about learning Chinese. In contrast to the many podcasts intending to teach you Chinese, this podcast will be about learning Chinese. We’ll be discussing the best ways to learn Chinese, the research behind it, and include inspirational stories and guest interviews along the way.

John and I are really excited about this project! We already have recorded a few episodes that are in post-production and plan to launch the podcast soon. We expect it will be an inspiring and edifying podcast, something that we hope you will find helpful and valuable to you, a Chinese learner. We’ll be sending out notifications on how to subscribe and get involved in the coming weeks!

You can find their website here.


Social studies books in Mandarin

On another note entirely, I also got a note from the folks at Benchmark Education, a company which focuses on textbooks and has a series for immersion students in Spanish and in Mandarin. While not read-under-the-covers books, it’s interesting to see what’s out there for immersion students in terms of social studies and other books. It’s unfortunate they put the pinyin on the same page as the characters, which I believe makes it less useful for immersion students.



Los Angeles Mandarin immersion program starts into high school next year

February 24, 2019

I’ll admit to getting almost misty-eyed about this one. I first talked to the fantastic principal at Broadway Elementary in Los Angeles not long after their program began. And now those little first graders are heading to high school next year. Kudos to Susan Wang for her foresight all those years ago and her perseverance in the face of not a few hurdles put up by her own school district!


Upcoming Dual Language Immersion Program

From: the Oarsman

First LAUSD high school to offer immersion courses in both Mandarin and Spanish


Parents attend an informational session about the upcoming program.

Venice High School will be the first high school in LAUSD’s District West to offer two languages as part of a  Dual Language Immersion Program in the Fall of 2019. Students in the program will be taught two of their six classes in either Spanish or Mandarin.

“I’m very excited to have this new program,” Principal Gabriel Griego said. “It will increase enrollment and it’s great to have this program in addition to our three academies and two magnets.”

Please read more here.