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Mandarin immersion comes to Redwood City, Calif.

November 24, 2014
Mandarin programs growing: Redwood City Elementary School District latest to add immersion course offerings
November 24, 2014, 05:00 AM By Angela Swartz Daily Journal

Community demand, along with the fact that more than a billion people in the world speak Chinese, has been the impetus for more language programs in its predominant dialect Mandarin in Peninsula schools.

The Redwood City Elementary School District Board of Trustees approved Oct. 22 the beginning of a Mandarin immersion program at John Gill Elementary School next school year. The program would begin with at least one kindergarten and one first-grade class, each with about 28 students; adding a grade level each year up to fifth-grade. Language immersion is a method of instruction in which the learner’s target language is used in classroom instruction. Advocates for immersion programs say it’s the most effective and natural way to learn a second language. In a Mandarin immersion classroom, the teacher instructs all content in Mandarin and students are encouraged to speak with each other in Mandarin.

“It improves problem solving and better listening skills for learning other languages,” said John Baker, the district’s deputy superintendent of curriculum and instruction. “In the future, it creates job opportunities for children.”

Registration for the program began Nov. 3 and runs until Jan. 9, 2015, and students will be selected on a lottery basis, Baker said. The idea was brought to the district in September 2013 by parents in the community. Because the majority of the parents who came forth with the idea live in the John Gill attendance area, that’s where the district decided to place the program, he said. Diana Fu, parent organizer for the Mandarin Immersion in Redwood City parent group, lives in the John Gill neighborhood and has organized Mandarin story time at the library, along with short workshops on Mandarin at John Gill. Jean Watanabe, co-leader of the group, has a child who will attend transitional kindergarten next year and wants him to be able to enter the Mandarin program at John Gill in the future.

“I’m Chinese; I spoke it growing up as a kid,” Watanabe said. “Being able to speak the language means a lot to me. My husband is not Chinese and he is also learning. One of the best ways to learn is taking a Mandarin immersion program. I could send my kids to San Mateo, Mountain View or Fremont, but it would be great if there was something in our community.”

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