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

August 21, 2019

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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.


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