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Time to start fundraising to send your teachers to the big Chinese language conference in Salt Lake City on May 17th

February 19, 2018

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Every year the Asia Society holds its annual National Chinese Language Conference. It’s the go-to conference for Chinese teaching and has become a hotspot of Mandarin immersion information. I’ve only gotten to attend one but I learned a ton and for anyone in the field it’s truly not to be missed.

This year it’s in Salt Lake City, and as we all know, Utah has the most built-out and organized state-wide language immersion programs in the country. So the school tours alone are going to be worth the price of admission.

That said, the conference is not cheap, so think about doing some fundraising so that your master teachers can go and bring back the latest and the greatest in Mandarin immersion to your students. And if your district is sitting on the fence about creating a program, this would be the place to send recalcitrant administrators…

The 2018 National Chinese Language Conference will be held from May 17-19, 2018. The main conference will conclude by 12 PM noon on Saturday, May 19.

Join us for the 11th annual NCLC and celebrate the growth of the Chinese language field!

  • Choose from more than 100 sessions and workshops
  • Hear from visionary speakers and thought leaders in the field
  • Enjoy performances highlighting Chinese culture
  • Sign up for preconference school visits to see local K-12 Chinese language programs in action (additional fee applies)
  • Participate in preconference workshops, half-day/full-day (additional fee applies)
  • Browse diverse resources in the exhibit hall
  • Network with educators in the field
  • Explore the rich cultural offerings of Salt Lake City area

The registration fee includes participation in all keynote and breakout sessions, as well as group meals in the schedule.


More info here.



Thoughts on Chinese New Year

February 16, 2018

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Please find below a lovely essay on Chinese New Year by Jeff Bissell, the head of the Chinese American International School in San Francisco, the country’s oldest Mandarin immersion program.

If you have thoughts on Chinese New Year, your school or Mandarin Immersion in general, please send them along. I am eager to run guest pieces that help parents understand immersion and the wonderful culture their families are embracing.

Happy Year of the Dog, everyone!


New Year in Liaoning

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I’ve frequently said that I came to CAIS for the program, and I’ve stayed because of the community. What makes any community special is the relationships, and strong relationships are, I believe, based on understanding each other’s stories. In that spirit, and on this week’s special occasion, I want to share my own personal story about the lunar new year. In fact, it is a privilege to share it with you, and I’d love you to share your story with me. Here goes….

Just a few days ago, February 9, was the 30-year anniversary of my first move to China. Not long before that, I had quit my job as a public high school history teacher in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I had spent the previous summer in China, and when I returned to Wisconsin in the fall, I couldn’t think about anything except for China. I needed to return. So, operating through snail mail, I secured a job teaching English at a second tier engineering university in Shenyang, an industrial city of (at the time) four to five million people and the capital of Liaoning Province in northeast China. I quit my job and off I went. Liaoning was my home for the next two years.

The reason I left on February 9, was that I had received an invitation (again by snail mail) to spend the lunar new year’s eve with the family of a student I had met that previous summer. The lunar new year fell on February 17 that year, so I figured if I left the US on February 9, I’d be over jet lag in time to enjoy new year’s eve on the 16th. Not many foreigners had the opportunity to spend the lunar new year with a Chinese family in China in those days; I was over-the-moon excited.

I’m from Wisconsin, so I was used to cold winter weather. Shenyang, however was really, really cold, and even though people burned coal bricks to heat their homes, it was always cold indoors as well. As in, see-your-breath cold. When the icy wind blew outside, the curtains on the ill-fitted inside windows swayed with the draft. I wore knitted, fingerless gloves inside, and I started drinking hot tea, not because I liked it, but because the tin enamel tea cups people used conducted heat that kept my hands warm.

The family that invited me to join them for the lunar new year’s eve lived in a small brick one-story house. The house consisted of one small living/dining room with a concrete floor in which the family spent most of their time. There was also a much smaller bedroom that was entirely taken up with a large bed, piled with wool comforters and pillows stuffed with millet, on which several people slept. A narrow entryway leading from the front door to the other two rooms had a two burner stove attached to a propane tank and a small sink. The toilet was outside in the alleyway that led to the house. The family had pasted new year’s couplets on either side of their door. Nowadays, people buy colorful, preprinted new year couplets, but 30 years ago in Shenyang families paid a few cents to calligraphers in open-air markets who used brush pens to write the auspicious sayings on red paper. Inside the house, a few bare light bulbs hung from the low ceiling, casting dim light across the modest dwelling.

This was home to five people during the week; mom was a Peking Opera singer and dad was a store clerk. The middle daughter who had invited me was an English teacher at a local high school. The older brother was a percussionist in the same Peking Opera troupe as his mother (he had long hair and wanted to be a rock drummer), and the younger brother was in high school. On the weekends the youngest daughter would also return home; she was a soccer goalie who had won a spot at a local sports academy, and during the week she slept in the school dormitory at night. The oldest sister was married to a soldier and lived in military housing in another part of the city. They had a two-year-old daughter who everyone called Bingbing, which means “little soldier.” On that new year’s eve, mom, dad, all five siblings, the brother-in-law, Bingbing, a couple of uncles and me–twelve people in all–squeezed inside the little concrete room to cook and drink and eat and welcome in the new year. I later learned that the family was a chai qian hu, a relocated household whose former home had been demolished in order to make way for newer construction. They were living temporarily in that little dwelling until they could be allocated a newer and, they said, slightly more spacious apartment.

Because it was the north of China, we made dumplings or jiaozi. The family pulled out a round folding table and we huddled around it, scooping pork and chive filling with chopsticks from a tin enamel basin and wrapping it with dumpling skins that first uncle and eldest sister rolled out by hand on another round, flour-covered folding table–lightning fast. I remember mom wrapping a piece of red hard candy in one of the dumplings and explaining “who ever eats the dumpling with the candy will have good luck all year!” I now pride myself on the speed with which I can wrap respectable-looking dumplings. That night, however, was my first time; the dumplings were ugly, and in the time it took me to wrap one, the others around the table could finish three or four. Mom, perhaps sensing my insecurity, insisted loudly that my dumplings were indeed “feichang haokan” (“extraordinarily good-looking”). I remember Bingbing being fixated on my nose, which she kept pointing to and exclaiming “da bizi!” (“big nose!”). Each time she would say this, everyone would erupt with laughter, followed by someone saying, “Oh no, your nose is very beautiful.” I knew that no one really thought my dumplings or my big foreign nose were beautiful. We are all useful for something, and that night I was happy to have my dumplings and my nose serve as a sources of amusement to my friendly hosts. One of the uncles had consumed a large amount of baijiu, a kind of grain alcohol made with sorghum that men drank a lot of in Northeast China. As a result, he spoke very slowly, which the eldest brother (the aspiring drummer) pointed out to me. My friend the English teacher tried to teach me how to say “hen man” (“his speech is very slow”). I couldn’t get the tones right, no matter how hard I tried, and this resulted in more amusement–everytime I tried to say “hen man,” the place erupted with laughter. Big nosed, ugly dumpling rolling, pronunciation botching foreigner. All good.

At midnight we all went outside and set off fireworks in the little alley. Last night I pulled out an old letter I had written home the day after the celebration. It read, “imagine 4-5 million people simultaneously setting off shoddily made fireworks in narrow alleyways–it was pandemonium!” I still remember the smoke-filled sky lighting up, and the noise.

That night, among the hundreds of dumplings we wrapped and boiled, I was the one to bite into the one with the red hard candy. Needless to say it was a lucky year for me. I spent 15 of the next 22 years in China, before coming to CAIS. Moving to China 30 years ago fundamentally changed my life trajectory, and it all started with the lunar new year.

I love sharing these memories. In many ways I feel as though my work at CAIS may in some small way lead to others having the opportunity to have the kinds of amazing experiences that I was so lucky to have.

Happy new year!


Charleston, SC Mandarin immersion school opening in the fall

February 12, 2018

Mandarin Chinese language immersion school now enrolling for fall 2018 in Charleston area

East Point Academy in West Columbia (copy)
At East Point Academy in West Columbia, students raise their hands to answer a question. A similar public charter school, East Light Academy, is set to open in Berkeley County in the fall of 2018 offering an immersion language training in Mandarin Chinese. File/Provided/Hong LeeSubscribe for 33¢ / day

A public charter school offering a Mandarin Chinese language immersion program is set to open in the fall at an industrial site off Clements Ferry Road. Enrollment is open through March 31.

Modeled after East Point Academy, which opened in West Columbia in 2011, East Light Academy will have its youngest students learning 75 percent of their regular curriculum from a teacher speaking Mandarin. The rest will be taught in English. Starting in second grade, they will switch to a 50-50 language mix.

Charter committee Chairwoman Hong Lee said she anticipates enrolling about 350 students in 4-year-old pre-kindergarten through second grade starting in the fall and adding higher grade levels in subsequent years. Enrollment will be free in kindergarten and older, but pre-K will cost $5,500 per year, she said.

East Light Academy of Charleston won approval from the S.C. Public Charter School District last year and began online enrollment in December. The school cleared a major hurdle this month when its founders signed a lease on a 50,000-square-foot industrial building at 2325 Charleston Regional Parkway, Charleston.

Please read more here.

Avenues founder to open new Mandarin immersion school in DC

February 10, 2018

Whittle launched Avenues: The World School in New York a few years ago. It’s billed as having two programs, one Mandarin immersion and one Spanish immersion. I can’t speak to the Spanish immersion side, but I’ve heard from some parents that it’s debatable whether the Mandarin immersion side is, in fact, immersion. The website says that in K – 5 a full 50% of the curriculum is taught in Mandarin. But parents have told me that there’s less time spent actually in Mandarin than the school’s site would claim, or at least less push on the literacy side than they had expected and wanted.

I haven’t seen any data on what ACTFL proficiency levels students achieve by 5th grade and how they line up with programs we know to be strongly immersion. I would welcome any insight readers might have into what’s actually happening at Avenues. It might tell us what to expect at the new D.C.-based school.


Private school with global ambition to open in D.C. and China in 2019

February 7 at 7:00 PM

Education entrepreneur Chris Whittle shows a mock classroom inside a Connecticut Avenue building that will become home to the D.C. campus of a school with global ambition, opening next year with a sister campus in China. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)

An education company backed by U.S. and Chinese investors is launching a global private school for students ages 3 to 18, with the first two campuses scheduled to open next year in Washington and the Chinese coastal city of Shenzhen.

Whittle School & Studios will offer foreign-language immersion — Chinese in the United States, English in China — with a curriculum centered on mastery of core academic subjects, ­student-driven projects and off-campus learning opportunities in major world cities.

On Thursday, veteran education entrepreneur Chris Whittle plans to announce the debut of the D.C. campus in fall 2019 at a prominent site near a cluster of embassies — the striking aluminum and glass edifice at 4000 Connecticut Ave. NW once known as the Intelsat building.

Please read more here.

Will Houston’s fabulous Mandarin immersion magnet survive the district’s budget crisis?

February 8, 2018

Will magnet schools survive the HISD budget crisis?

February 7, 2018

Magnets, like the Mandarin Chinese Language Immersion Magnet School, have been the pride and joy of HISD for many decades. Photo: Brett Coomer, Houston Chronicle / © 2016 Houston Chronicle

Photo: Brett Coomer, Houston Chronicle

Magnets, like the Mandarin Chinese Language Immersion Magnet School, have been the pride and joy of HISD for many decades.

In the spring of 2011, the Dallas Independent School District (DISD) and the city’s residents found themselves in an uncomfortable position: They were facing deep budget cuts and needed to confront how best to utilize scarce financial resources.

The panorama was not an easy one. Against a backdrop of criticism, Superintendent Michael Hinojosa and DISD officials had to make the tough decision of redistributing financial resources across the district and choosing which programs would suffer the consequences of this financial shortfall.

The answer for them was to inflict massive cuts to the magnet school system, especially the Yvonne A. Ewell Townview Magnet Center — a complex that houses several college preparatory and career-oriented high schools in science and engineering, health professions, law enforcement and gifted and talented.

Please read more here.

Top 5 myths about Mandarin immersion schools

February 4, 2018

This comes for the blog of Virginia Duan, a Taiwanese American blogger who writes on identity, homeschooling, Chinese/English bilingual education and raising multi-ethnic kids among other topics.

Duan speaks Mandarin and is teaching it to her kids, so she faces a different set of challenges and opportunities than non-Chinese speaking parents hoping to have their kids learn Chinese.

That said, she makes excellent and very cogent points about exactly what Mandarin immersion programs can and cannot do. Her piece is well worth reading.

Which isn’t  to say that kids from English-speaking homes in Mandarin immersion programs won’t learn Chinese. But she’s absolutely right, they won’t be fluent and they won’t be literate.

Still, they can end up pretty darn good. Our youngest child is now in 9th grade and is taking 2nd year college Chinese at San Francisco City College as part of the San Francisco Unified School District’s Chinese Flagship program. Both kids are comfortable if not fluent Chinese speakers. Enough so that they’ve both said they’d be up for trying for internship in China or Taiwan during the summers.

So the message here is that the glass is half full – a solid immersion program pursued through high school should result in students who are strong Mandarin speakers and culturally comfortable in a Chinese-speaking environment. The half-empty side of things is that they won’t read well at all (but then many Chinese speakers in the U.S. don’t read Chinese that well either) and they won’t be fluent.

All things considered, it’s a pretty sweet deal. As long as you don’t have unreasonable expectations. But I’ll let Virginia talk about that…


Top 5 myths about Mandarin immersion schools

[From Mandarin Mama]

myths mandarin immersion school

I would like to say that I’m a practical and reasonable person. (Well, except when I’m not. But then, aren’t we all?) I totally understand that everyone who wants their kids to learn Chinese is NOT going to be homeschooling bilingually in Chinese and English.

I get that.

For many folks, their best option for teaching their kids Chinese will be a local (or not so local) Mandarin Immersion school. Despite what you may think, I consider Chinese immersion programs a totally legitimate option for many families. In some cases, perhaps the best option.

After all, depending on the program, your child will be surrounded by Chinese speaking adults all day and learn many subjects in Chinese as well as English. It’s a nice way to ease in newly immigrated children as well as teach a really hard language in a somewhat less arduous way.

Please read more here.

Kansas’ only Mandarin immersion school doing well

February 1, 2018

This is from last year, I’m hoping to hear from some parents at the school now to hear how it’s going and I’ll report back. – Beth

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Think you could learn Mandarin? This Kansas kindergarten classroom is Chinese-only

October 26, 2017 11:39 AM