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Teacher’s Perspective: How My School’s Chinese Immersion Program Is Paving a Pathway to Global Citizenship for Inner-City Students

August 13, 2018

This sounds like a wonderful program in Boston. Though I have to point out that it isn’t immersion. Chinese is being taught as a foreign language, for one hour a day, according to the school’s website. Which counts as what educators call FLES (Foreign Language in Elementary School.)

Immersion requires that at least half the school day be in Mandarin and that academic courses be TAUGHT IN Mandarin. So you don’t just teach Mandarin, you teach IN Mandarin. For example, math class is taught in Mandarin, or science class. Not just Mandarin Language Arts.

I see this confusion a lot. It’s because today almost all foreign language classes are taught by teachers who speak only the language in class. When I took German in high school, our teacher spoke mostly in English, explaining how German worked. Today, the teacher would speak only in German, using simple words to get across ideas. 

So it’s an immersive language class, but it isn’t immersion. 

Which doesn’t mean what they’re doing in Boston doesn’t sound great. But don’t let someone tell you an hour a day of language class is immersion. It isn’t.

The folks at Boston Renaissance Charter Public School seem quite straightforward about it. There are some private schools out there who claim they’re offering immersion when they actually aren’t (and charging immersion prices for it….)

Here’s how Boston Renaissance Charter Public School describes its Mandarin offerings, FYI:

Our goal was to begin with a strong foundation and expand the program by adding one grade each year. We began with the youngest students, 88 K1 and K2 students began learning Chinese as a second language in school year 2009-2010. In school year 2010-2011, the students who learned Chinese increased to 392 students, including all K1, K2 and Gr. 1 students. These students received Chinese instruction three times a week for a total of 90 minutes. In school year 2011-2012, 468 students from all K1, K2, Gr. 1 and 2 received Chinese instruction. The class was scheduled five times a week for 30 minutes per class. K1-Gr. 1 students receive Chinese instruction 5 times a week for 30 minutes per class. Students in Gr. 2 and 3 receive Chinese each trimester for 5 times a week for 55 minutes per class. Students in the upper grades are allowed to continue taking Chinese as an elective.


Teacher’s Perspective: How My School’s Chinese Immersion Program Is Paving a Pathway to Global Citizenship for Inner-City Students

Their educations often hamstrung by their zip codes, generations of urban kids in places like the Boston neighborhood where I teach graduate from public high schools having passed conventional subjects like math and English, but lacking an awareness and appreciation of other languages and societies that would surely enhance their chances of success. Many complete grades K-12 perhaps able to navigate a college campus or the job market, but with little education about the wider world, other than, perhaps, a few years of basic Spanish or French.

As students move on and become participants in the global economy, that lack of exposure to other cultures is sure to hinder their capacity to fully engage and thrive. In an increasingly complicated world, we should be preparing and inspiring young people to make contributions to global understanding, prosperity, and peace.

For almost a decade, Boston Renaissance Charter Public School, where I’ve taught since 2014, has taken a different approach. Located in a transformed mill building, Boston Renaissance educates 900 children from neighborhoods citywide. Many have rarely traveled outside the city, let alone visited the other side of the planet. But, starting in pre-kindergarten, every one of them learns Mandarin Chinese through a unique, internationally recognized program that also immerses them in Chinese culture.

Please read more here.

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