Skip to content

Interview with a Chinese immersion student ten years out: A “first and a half” language

August 21, 2019

Screen Shot 2019-05-08 at 2.13.27 PM

The guys at Mandarin Companion, my favorite easy-to-read Chinese novel publisher, have started a podcast called “You Can Learn Chinese.”

Mostly it’s language-geek kind of stuff about Chinese, learning Chinese and teaching Chinese. I.e. the kind of stuff I love but which might not be for everyone.

But they’ve got one episode in which they interview Caitlin Lee, a woman who now works in China who attended a Chinese immersion school in the United States from Kindergarten through 8th grade, which parents will find interesting.

Caitlin comes from a Caucasian family and no one in her family spoke any Chinese when they first put her older brother in the program just after it started.

You can find the webpage about the podcasts here.

And the interview with Caitlin is in Episode 3 here.

The first bit is about the founders of the company, Jared Turner, John Pasden, and their quest to learn Chinese. The immersion part starts 27 minutes in.

They don’t name Caitlin’s school, but it must be the Cantonese immersion program at West Portal Elementary School in San Francisco, which launched in 1984. It’s the first Cantonese immersion program in the country and she says her oldest brother was in the inaugural class, which fits.

She’s fully fluent in Mandarin and Cantonese and now works in China.

My favorite part is when she describes Chinese as her “first-and-a-half language.” That’s a great way of describing immersion, you learn the language so young that it’s not really fair to call it a second language, but neither is it your first language if you come from an English-speaking home.



How Language Shapes the Brain

August 14, 2019

From Scientific American

Crucial point: Just as having stronger muscles allows you to lift weights with less effort, increased gray matter in classic executive control regions may make it easier for bilinguals to manage irrelevant information. Bilinguals also have increased white matter in the tracts connecting frontal control areas to posterior and subcortical sensory and motor regions, which may allow them to off-load some of the work to areas that handle more procedural activities. Because the same neural machinery can be used for both linguistic and non-linguistic tasks, multilingual experience can even affect performance in contexts that involve no language at all.

Screen Shot 2019-05-06 at 7.59.25 PM

As Emperor Akihito steps down from the Chrysanthemum Throne in Japan’s first abdication in 200 years, Naruhito officially becomes the new Emperor on May 1, 2019, ushering in a new era called Reiwa (令和; “harmony”). Japan’s tradition of naming eras reflects the ancient belief in the divine spirit of language. Kotodama (言霊; “word spirit”) is the idea that words have an almost magical power to alter physical reality. Through its pervasive impact on society, including its influence on superstitions and social etiquette, traditional poetry and modern pop songs, the word kotodama has, in a way, provided proof of its own concept.

For centuries, many cultures have believed in the spiritual force of language. Over time, these ideas have extended from the realm of magic and mythology to become a topic of scientific investigation—ultimately leading to the discovery that language can indeed affect the physical world, for example, by altering our physiology.

Please read more here.

San Gabriel Valley in California to add Mandarin immersion program

August 9, 2019

From: San Gabriel Valley Tribune

West Covina Unified is set to launch its first Mandarin dual language immersion program at Orangewood Elementary School this fall.

The program will be open to kindergarten students. Enrollment will open March 4, and the program is set to launch in August.

West Covina Unified already offers a Spanish dual language immersion program at Orangewood and Monte Vista elementary schools.

The Mandarin program was approved by the West Covina Unified school board at its Feb. 12 meeting.

“Students who participate in (immersion) programs develop greater cognitive flexibility, increase academic growth and develop a more positive understanding of other cultures,” school board President Daniel C. Monarrez said in a statement. “We are proud to provide our students with another resource to ensure they are prepared to compete in a global economy and thrive in college and their careers.”

Please read more here.

Idaho Mandarin immersion program maxes out its school

August 5, 2019

Screen Shot 2019-05-10 at 3.23.57 PM

From: The Jefferson Star

South Fork Elementary Mandarin Chinese program reaches full capacity

South Fork Elementary School Principal Richard Howard said students can’t get enough of the school’s Mandarin Chinese program.

Six years after its initial inception, the program — one of just 278 in America — has reached full capacity. The program is just one of three immersion programs offered in Idaho (Gateway School of Language and Culture in Boise is the second.) Rigby Middle School started its first Mandarin Chinese program this year due to more students taking Mandarin at South Fork Elementary.

The school district also has Spanish Immersion at five elementary schools (Farnsworth, Harwood, Jefferson, Roberts and Rigby Middle School.)

For South Fork Elementary, the program had 50 to 56 students per class when it started in 2013. During the last three years, the immersion program has reached its 60-student maximum at the kindergarten, first- and second-grade levels — with even a short waiting list, Howard said.

“I think one of the biggest changes is that it is more accepted now,” said Howard, who has a Chinese fan sitting on top of his office cabinet. “The community can see a value in it.”

The program has not only helped diversify the school’s learning environment, but it’s also improved proficiency test scores across the district.

Please read more here.

13-year-old fluent in four languages speaks at National Chinese Language convention

July 25, 2019

Screen Shot 2019-05-13 at 6.03.29 PM

From: Xinhua

by Angela Efros

SAN DIEGO, the United States, May 12 (Xinhua) — A crowd of over 1,300 fell silent as 13-year-old Kamila Carter told her story of being raised by deaf parents from two different countries and how she crosses U.S.-China barriers in the world of sounds and silence.

To communicate with her father, mother and grandmother, Kamila had to learn three different languages. A 7th grade student at Tierra del Sol Middle School, she was the youngest speaker at the 2019 National Chinese Language Conference in San Diego in western U.S. state of California. On a Friday’s panel titled “Student Study Abroad Experience: Impact and Best Practices,” young Kamila spoke about conquering her fears to travel to China all alone.

The annual National Chinese Language Conference is the largest annual gathering in North America that brings together leaders and practitioners in the fields of Chinese language and culture education and U.S.-China education partnership.

“The mother is from Mexico, she’s totally deaf. The father is from the United States, he is totally deaf. He uses the American sign language, and she uses the Mexican Spanish sign language,” a mentor and teacher, Lilly Cheng, PhD, director of the Confucius Institute at San Diego State University, told Xinhua.

Kamila talks to her father in American sign language, to her Mother in Spanish and Spanish sign language and to her grandmother in English.

Please read more here.

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.