Skip to content

Do children soak up languages like a sponges?

July 19, 2019

An interesting article. The important point is this:

Dr. Muñoz makes the point that children are only sponges when they get deep and meaningful exposure to the language. “You need a high frequency of input, of good quality,” she said. “You have to live with the language, use the language and function in the language.

Immersion is that deep and meaningful exposure. It’s why a taking Mandarin classes in elementary school (called FLES, for Foreign Language in Elementary School and usually 3-5 hours a week) doesn’t do much at all.

The article also reminds us that children go through a silent period when they’re absorbing  a new language. We don’t notice it when they’re babies because, well, they’re babies. But we do notice it when they’re give.

And yet pay attention to how much of what’s being said in your child’s classroom they understand. Do they get up when the teacher says to get up? Do they go to the sink to wash their hands when their teacher says to? Do they take out their math books and not their science books when asked? That means they’re understanding — even if they couldn’t say those sentences themselves.

It’s also true of English, when you think about it. Kindergarteners don’t say things like, “Could you please get me a cup of water when you’re finished doing the dishes?” But they understand us when we say, “Put your Legos away and after that you can bring me a book and I’ll read it to you.”

Screen Shot 2019-07-10 at 3.55.26 PM


Do Children Soak Up Language Like Sponges?

A pervasive idea assumes that young children can absorb new languages with minimal effort, but it turns out that the science is more complicated.

From The New York Times

By Lindsay Patterson June 28, 2019



When my husband and I decided to pack up our comfortable lives in Austin, Texas, to move to Barcelona, Spain, we had a dream for our then-3-year-old son: He would become trilingual. In Barcelona, most people speak Spanish and Catalan, the regional language. Speaking three languages seemed like a big goal for a small person, but we believed it was possible because of one phrase: Children are like sponges.

Whenever we told people about our plans to put our son in a Catalan school, they told us about sponges. Children learn languages quickly, they said. He’ll be speaking like a native in no time.

But that’s not what happened. In September, our son started school. It wasn’t until March that he uttered his first full sentence in Catalan: “M’he fet mal” (I’ve hurt myself). But that didn’t open the floodgates of language. His teacher assured us that he understood everything — he followed directions well, and he was learning. But he stayed mostly silent. I began to worry that my child was not as sponge-like a learner as I’d been led to believe.

Please read more here.


Houston’s Mandarin Immersion Magnet School one of 18 to receive A+ rating

July 15, 2019

Screen Shot 2019-07-15 at 8.12.44 AM

[The Mandarin immersion school is listed further down in the story, click to “Please read more link” to read it.]

From The Houston Chronicle

Fresh after getting a new principal, West University Elementary School finds itself among the top of the heap in a new list of Houston ISD schools.

School rankings were announced by Children At Risk, rating thousands of schools in the state and assigning letter grades to each campus. In Houston ISD, 274 campuses were rated with grades running from A-plus to F.

Children At Risk has offices in Houston, Dallas and Fort Worth. Founded in 1989 in Houston, it touts itself as a “non-partisan research and advocacy organization dedicated to addressing the root causes of poor public policies affecting children.” It is now a “statewide organization impacting all children in Texas, speaking out and driving change for Texas’ most vulnerable youth for over 30 years.”

In ranking schools, Children At Risk “ranks and grades Texas public schools to help parents, educators, and community members understand how schools in their community are performing and spark dialogue on the quality of public education across Texas.”

Schools are assigned ranks and grades based on “student achievement on standardized tests, student growth year-to-year, and how well schools support economically disadvantaged students. High schools are also evaluated on how well they prepare students for college and career.”

Please see more here.

Aiken, South Carolina to add three immersion schools: Mandarin, Spanish and German

July 10, 2019
The schools will begin with Kindergarten classes and build out from there.
The district is in a suburb north of the Augusta, South Carolina.

Partial World Language Immersion coming to district elementary schools

From: The Aiken Standard

Mandarin Chinese is the most widely spoken language in the world and represents a growing presence within South Carolina’s business and industry sectors, and students at Belvedere Elementary School will be able to tap into that learning and earning potential starting in August. Aiken County Public Schools’ World Language Opportunities for elementary school students doesn’t stop there, though.

Belvedere will join Clearwater and Millbrook Elementary schools as World Language Immersion campuses beginning in the 2019-20 school year. Clearwater Elementary will feature language and cultural immersion in Spanish; Millbrook Elementary will offer the same unique programming in German. Elementary World Language programs in Aiken County Public Schools will begin with Kindergarten students, and expand to later grades as students advance in grade-level instruction.

“Beginning the program in Kindergarten provides the opportunity for the first cohorts to be immersed throughout their elementary grades thereby increasing the likelihood of becoming fluent in the second language,” said Aiken County Public Schools Executive Director of Elementary Schools Julie Revelle.

Please read more here.

The district’s brochure is here.
A story on the announcement here.

Families commute from North Dakota to Wyoming for Mandarin immersion

July 5, 2019

Screen Shot 2019-05-05 at 8.19.03 AM

What stands out to me in this article is a side note pretty far down, about what some families are willing to do to get  immersion:

“The only difficulty is when students move away,” he said. “When, say, a fourth grader leaves, we can’t just put another kid in that classroom. They wouldn’t understand what was going on. But a lot of parents really love the program. We’ve had a family alternate weeks between here and North Dakota because they wanted their kid to stay involved in the program.”

From: Oil City News


Paradise Elementary students [in Casper, Wyoming] are preparing their performances for the Chinese New Year Friday, January 25.

The students will be at the Nicolaysen Art Museum on the following Friday, February 1 to celebrate the start of the Chinese New Year. This year’s animal: the pig.

Fourth graders were crowded into the gym on Friday, preparing music and dance for their performance. They’ll put their efforts on display at PV on January 31 before the school heads over to the Nic for their February 1 activities. PV’s Chinese New Year celebration at the Nic will help raise funds for a student trip to China and the Nic. There will be performances, a cultural presentation, art sale, raffles, traditional Chinese crafts plus food and drink.


Please read more here.

California Mandarin immersion program keeps school open

June 28, 2019

Screen Shot 2019-04-23 at 8.07.35 AM

Redwood City, Calif, in the heart of Silicon Valley, has faced declining enrollment for several years, leading to a significant funding gap within the district. This is partly due to the area losing middle and working class families as Silicon Valley real estate prices have gone through the roof and priced them out of the area, while wealthy families increasingly choose private schools. 

A story about the district’s woes is here.

A bright spot is John Gill Elementary, which opened a Mandarin Immersion program in 2015 and which has been a draw for students in. That program continues to do well and was saved in the latest round of school closures, which are detailed below. I’ve spoken at the school several times and it’s got engaged, strong parents and a wonderful principal. A nice example of how immersion can keep families in local schools. 

From: Climate Online Redwood City

Redwood City Schools’ “Downsizing” Moves Ahead

Two Redwood City School District alternative programs will have new principals next fall as part of the district’s downsizing from 16 schools to 12.

Warren Sedar, principal at Selby Lane and a 20-year district teacher and administrator, will remain in his position as his school absorbs the Adelante Spanish Immersion Program, which moves from its campus on Granger Way west of Alameda de las Pulgas.

Katherine Rivera, principal at John Gill for five years, also will keep her job when the Orion parent participation program moves to John Gill to share the Jefferson Avenue campus with the district’s Mandarin Immersion program, established at John Gill in 2015. Orion will vacate its current home on Allerton Street near downtown.

In making his announcement by email to district parents, Supt. John Baker said current Adelante principal Christine Hiltbrand and Orion principal Julie Guaspari “have done an exceptional job at their current sites and we plan to have them continue with us as part of the district’s leadership team.”

Please read more here.

Some videos to watch with your kids

June 24, 2019

Screen Shot 2019-06-24 at 10.56.20 AM

From John Hilton, a Mandarin parent in Utah, who has some nice suggestions for Chinese language TV shows that work for kids.

Recently my family has enjoyed watching the Chinese Drama series “A Love So Beautiful.” It’s a fun, squeaky clean show that follows the story of five high school students in China. English subtitles are available (and for most students will be necessary for full comprehension). But it’s a fun way to practice Chinese listening skills and some cultural insights will come as well. Consider having a Chinese movie night where you watch an episode or two together. Hopefully your children will like it enough to keep going!

Another great series is “Love 020.” This series is a little more intense than “A Love So Beautiful” as it takes place on a college campus and includes scenes that take place in a fantasy world, but it’s still very clean and my kids have loved it so far.

The State of Mandarin Immersion in the United States: June 2019

June 16, 2019

Screen Shot 2019-06-16 at 11.29.07 AM

By Elizabeth Weise

Mandarin immersion schools in the United States are both growing as a steady pace and maturing. As of the fall of the 2019-2020 school year, there will be Mandarin immersion programs in 306 schools. Of those, 15 will be new. This is part of an overall strong growth in Mandarin immersion nationwide, with a steep increase in schools beginning in 1999 that has continued ever since. Recent years have seen large gains — 28 new schools launched in the 2017—2018 school year and a stunning 31 in  the 2018—2019 school year.

In the past several years, about half of new schools are entirely new programs, while the other half are middle and high schools that Mandarin immersion elementary school programs launched over the past decade are now maturing into.

In the 2018-2019 school year, of the 31 schools that launched Mandarin immersion programs, 17 were either elementary or K – 8 schools, 7 were middle schools, and 6 were high schools. The remaining school was a private K – 12 program.

Public schools continue to predominate in Mandarin immersion, making up 72% of all Mandarin immersion schools in the nation, compared with 15% of private schools and 11% of charters schools.

The programs are also growing across the country. California is home to the most, with 77 schools offering Mandarin immersion. Utah, with its strong state-wide immersion program, is next, with 66. The next largest is Minnesota, which has a long history of Mandarin immersion and has 13 schools. New York, Oregon, and North Carolina are tied, with 11. Nine states have just one Mandarin immersion school so far.

There are 17 states that have no Mandarin immersion programs: Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Building out, cutting back

Some districts are building out their programs while others are cutting them back.

In Cumberland, Maryland, the Mandarin immersion program was launched in West Side Elementary School in the Allegheny County Public School District in the fall of 2012. This year, in the fall of 2018, the Kindergartners that began in that program started into sixth grade, and their school district launched its middle school program at Braddock Middle School. In 2021, that first cohort of Mandarin immersion students will reach ninth grade, and the Allegheny County Public School District will continue the program into high school. Thus, it will have one Mandarin immersion program in three schools.

Many districts plan far ahead and do an excellent job of informing parents what is to come. For example, in Eugene, Oregon, the Eugene School District launched the Chinese Immersion School in the 2017-2018 school year with both a Kindergarten and 1stgrade class. The district has already announced that the program will continue into Kennedy Middle School in the fall of 2022 and at Churchill High School in 2025.

Other school districts are backing away from their immersion programs. For example, the San Francisco Unified School District, as of the 2019—2020 school year, will no longer offer a subject matter class in Mandarin past seventh grade. Beginning in the 2020-2021 school year, it will cease offering an immersion program (at least 50/50 instruction in Mandarin and English) past fifth grade. The program will remain in the city’s two public K – 5 schools, but in middle school,  Mandarin immersion students will only have access to a Mandarin Language Arts class. In high school, they will only have access to the regular Mandarin 1, 2, 3, 4 progression of classes.

The reason the district has given is that it was too difficult to hire teachers, and also that it believes it is inequitable to offer world language classes only to some students in middle school. It is worth noting that San Francisco’s public school system was an early adopter of Mandarin immersion, launching at Starr King Elementary School in 2006, when there were only 24 such schools in the nation. But without support and buy-in from district officials, programs can quickly be dismantled, especially in the upper grades.


In fact, that’s been an issue in the Allegheny County School District, where some on the school board are opposed to the immersion program and have tried to shut it down. Thus far they have not succeeded.


A note on these numbers

While Mandarin immersion programs (MIPs) in the United States have experienced rapid growth since the first one was founded in 1981, there exists no official list of Mandarin immersion programs nationwide. I include here only schools that fit the definition of immersion set forth by the Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA) at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis: Instruction takes place in the target language (i.e. Mandarin) for at least 50% of the school day during the elementary school years. In middle school, there should be at least one subject matter course taught in Mandarin. In high school, there should be at least some type of continuation course that offers Mandarin at the appropriate level for students who have been immersed in the language for ten years.

When a program appears to be in flux, I try to give it the benefit of the doubt and keep it on the list even if it’s not clear that true immersion is being offered. However some schools have shifted to a FLES (Foreign Language in Elementary School) model rather than teaching subject in Mandarin, and those I remove from the list when that change occurs.


History of Mandarin Immersion Programs in the United States

The first Mandarin immersion program (MIP) in the United States was founded in 1981 in San Francisco. The Chinese American International School (CAIS) taught 50% of the school day in Mandarin Chinese. It was designed for students coming from both Mandarin- and English-speaking families, though all entering students were expected to be able to speak English, and English-speaking families have always been the larger student population.

The second such program came 10 years later, with the opening of the private Pacific Rim International School in Emeryville, California. Another 5 years passed before two more opened in 1996—Potomac Elementary School in Potomac, Maryland, the nation’s first public MIP; and the private International School of the Peninsula in Palo Alto, California. International High School, an off-shoot of the French American International School in San Francisco, also began offering a Mandarin continuation program for CAIS graduates in that year, though in the early years its population depended on whether any CAIS graduates enrolled at the school.

By 2000, there were only 11 Mandarin immersion programs in the nation. However, the numbers began to grow rapidly in the 2000s, due in part to the increasing economic status of China. This trend took off after 2006, when the National Security Language Initiative (NSLI) was created. Its aim was to expand U.S. foreign language education beginning in early childhood, and it focused specifically on “critical foreign languages—specifically Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Russian and languages in the Indic, Iranian and Turkic families.”

Grants funded by NSLI in 2006 and 2007 were focused on programs that taught one of those languages, with the majority proposed for Chinese. This perhaps explains the large increase in MI schools in 2007 and beyond. Many school districts won Foreign Language Assistance Program (FLAP) grants to create or build out programs. Examples included Portland, Oregon, which expanded its program from one classroom to two classrooms per year, and San Francisco, which launched its first MIP and Southeast Elementary School in Tulsa. Unfortunately, the FLAP grant program was eliminated by Congress in 2011 as a budget-cutting measure.

Language immersion has increasingly become popular with school districts seeking to provide dual-language programs for English language learners while also offering a program for English-speaking families who wish to give their children access to a second language. Mandarin immersion offers both of these attributes, as well as being perceived by many parents as providing a more academically rigorous program that will be challenging to children. The confluence of motivation on the part of school districts and parents has been responsible for the rapid rise in the number of programs over the past decade.


Sources of Information about Mandarin Immersion Programs

The Mandarin Immersion Program List was initially compiled based on the Directory of Foreign Language Immersion Programs in U.S. Schools, which was collected by the Center for Applied Linguistics in 2011. That list was input into an Excel spreadsheet by a parent with a child in a Mandarin immersion program in June 2012.

I then began to add schools that were not listed in the Center for Applied Linguistics Directory. The main source of information about new and unknown MIP was hits returned from an automated, daily Google Search for the terms “Mandarin immersion” and “Chinese immersion.” As new programs launched, the Google search picked up local news reports about the program and sometimes their PTA announcements. Another way to find information about a new MIP was monitoring education-related email lists, websites, and the Mandarin Immersion Parent Support Group on Facebook, as parents in newly-created programs frequently post messages asking for information and assistance.

In addition, I look at educational conference proceedings for reports of new programs and follow the websites of districts and states with robust MIPs to see when new programs are added. Finally, I keep the spreadsheet on the Mandarin Immersion Parents Council blog, and ask that programs check their listed information for accuracy or send information if they were not listed. A surprising number do so each year.

I also sometimes receive emails from parents or administrators of new programs, or those who have found programs not listed on the spreadsheet. If information has been left out, I try to call the program to ask questions and get the missing information from them.

I have tried to make my list as comprehensive as possible, though it is sadly not exhaustive. It represents a minimum, but not a maximum, of the programs currently in existence. Every effort has been made to keep it as up to date and complete as possible