Skip to content

Some Canadian schools see China’s Confucius Institute as a handy teaching tool. Others reject it as propaganda

February 8, 2020


From the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

Dec. 1, 2019

Edmonton school board welcomes Chinese program while others cut ties over concerns about state involvement

After tying his sneaker shoelace, Laur An-Yochim jumps back to his feet.

Gym is his favourite class, and the fifth-grader does not intend to miss a moment of physical literacy consultant Stacey Hannay’s instructions.

“What is this in Mandarin?” Hannay asks, hopping around the basketball court inside Kildare School in Edmonton.

The students yell the answer, then move along to a game that involves finding hidden trinkets underneath rows of plastic cups, following directions shouted in English and Mandarin.

Kildare is one of 14 schools in the Edmonton Public School Board’s jurisdiction that takes part in programming offered by the Confucius Institute. That includes Mandarin classes but also other subjects taught in Mandarin, ranging from physical education to math.

The Institute is partly funded by China’s Ministry of Education and offers programming at elementary and high schools, as well as colleges and universities across Canada. China provides annual funding to run the programs as well as Chinese instructors who are are paid by China. In Edmonton’s case, they work alongside the school’s regular teachers to deliver language immersion programming.

Please read more here.


Sky Kids Mandarin day camp in San Francisco & Taipei

February 3, 2020

Screen Shot 2020-01-25 at 3.50.18 PM

It’s getting to be that time of year, when parents’ thoughts turn to summer programs.

For those in the San Francisco Bay area, one option is SkyKids, a long-running Mandarin immersion summer day camp that will be based near San Francisco’s  Japantown this year:

Last year SkyKids began a summer program in Taiwan as well, in New Taipei City.

Note that both of these programs are day camps, so you’ve got to have a parent or friend with whom your kids can stay.

Last year in Taipei the campers were mostly from other Asian countries, including many American ex-pats, with families coming from Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong and of course Taiwan.

So if you can relocate to Taipei for a few weeks this summer, it might be a camp for you.

[Disclaimer: My daughter and two of her classmates from Starr King Elementary grade school in San Francisco, all now in high school, were junior counselors in the Taipei program last year. Many of the junior counselors in San Francisco are Mandarin immersion high school students.]




Sorry for the less colorful blog this year — and a word to the wise to schools

January 29, 2020

A classroom at Shu Ren International School in Berkeley, California. Photo by Elizabeth Weise

Hi All,

As someone who makes her living writing for a newspaper, I am a firm and huge believer in intellectual property and copyright. If you write a piece, or take a photo or draw a picture or create music, it belongs to you and not the world. If I didn’t get paid for the words I write, I wouldn’t have a job.

Unfortunately, in the digital age it’s sometimes a little hard to know if an image has been paid for or is in the common domain.

I found out this week just how expensive getting that wrong can be when I got a letter in the mail from Permission Machine, a company that photographers use to find their copyrighted work online that’s being used without permission.

To my great sadness, a story I’d posted in 2015 about a website contained an image that belonged to a commercial photographer in Los Angeles, an image which the site — and by extension, I — did not have permission to use.

The bill for that one image, five years ago, wiped out every cent of money I’ve ever made from this blog and a quite a bit more besides. An expensive lesson to learn.

So I’ve deleted all the photos from this blog with the exception of a few at the very beginning which I myself took.

My guess is that 99.99% of the photos I’ve used over the past ten years (the blog launched in 2010) are totally fine. I took many myself and the rest were either sent to me by parents with explicit permission to use them, or from newspapers with a link to the full story, so the newspaper got the click (and the ad sales) from the story.

However, I didn’t have the time or the energy to go through a decade’s worth of photos to delete any that might be questionable so I took the somewhat drastic step of deleting all of them just to be sure. I don’t want to be writing any more checks to law firms.

Why this matters to you

I don’t write this just to complain, though I did want to explain why all the pretty pictures have disappeared, and why there might not be as many moving forward.

But it’s also a lesson I hope others can learn from. If you’re a school or a parent group, make sure that you’ve got permission to use the photos you use, especially stock photos or photos you might have found online. For example, I see lots of schools and groups and flyers that use the same stock photos of a group of multi-racial kids in a classroom (there don’t seem to be that many with a lot of Asian kids so they tend to get used over and over.)

You should know that if you haven’t paid for the right to use that photo, you might get hit with the kind of bill I did. Even if it’s just on a brochure or a flyer that you think “no one but parents at our school will ever see.” If it gets posted on your website, it can be easily found by copyright-searching software.

So take your own photos, don’t use stock photos from the web unless you’ve paid for them and stay safe out there!

Take it from me, your friendly neighborhood Mandarin immersion blogger, now sadder but wiser.


Happy Year of the Mouse to everyone!

January 25, 2020


Screen Shot 2020-01-25 at 11.19.06 AM

I hope everyone has a great Spring Festival, with lots of good food, lucky money and family time.



Chinese, English language students learn from each other in U of Minnesota program

January 20, 2020

Screen Shot 2019-12-14 at 5.59.11 PM

This is one of the things immersion students can do when they get to college. It’s a cool program. 

Associated Press Dec 4, 2019


MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — When Clare Murphy mentioned the phrase “hit the hay” in her Chinese language exchange class, some were confused and others were amused.

But Murphy thought what better way to teach American English to her fellow classmates — Chinese international students — than to incorporate idioms.

Murphy is one of 20 Chinese immersion graduates participating in a program at the University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities campus that allows high school students to practice Mandarin in a conversational setting with Chinese international students who are studying here in Minnesota.

Please read more here.

American Councils for International Education Chinese program — just right for immersion students

January 15, 2020

Screen Shot 2020-01-15 at 7.28.50 PM

Language Flagship cuts all K-12 funding

January 13, 2020

Screen Shot 2019-12-12 at 4.43.47 PM

The Language Flagship is a national program that works to design, support and implement advanced language education. It works with colleges to create advanced language treating and learning opportunities in critical languages such as Arabic, Chinese, Korean, Persian, Portuguese, Russian, and Turkish.

The Flagship network is made up of 31 Flagship programs at 21 institutions of higher education, and 10 Overseas Flagship Centers.

You can find a list of the Chinese flagship programs at 12 U.S. universities here.

The Flagship has always been important for Chinese immersion programs, giving out multiple grants that supported the growth and expansion of K – 12 programs around the country.

But no more. In a letter to parents in the Portland (Oregon) Public Schools Mandarin immersion program, coordinator Michael Bacon told parents that the Language Flagship is ending its support of K – 12 programs. Portland’s grant was the last, apparently.

The one good piece of news in this is that many Mandarin immersion programs had cut ties with their local Confucius Institute and its Confucius Classrooms program which supported Chinese teachers, at the directive of a federal law that was passed that restricted Flagship-funded programs from affiliating with the Confucius Institutes. Read more about that here. It could mean that programs can resume those affiliations.

Michael Bacon’s letter:

Dec 10, 2019

A message from Portland Public Schools

Dear Mandarin Immersion Families,

I am writing to give you an important update on the Chinese Flagship grant funding. This school year (19-20) is the last year of our current 4 year grant award. We are all set and nothing is changing in regards to the supports and commitments we have made to our programs and schools this year.

We learned this summer, however, that the National Security Education Program and the Language Flagship have made the decision to discontinue K-12 funding starting in 20-21 and dedicate all of their resources to the university programs that have been their primary function since the beginning.

PPS was the first K-12 system to receive Flagship funding in the US and is the only one receiving funding currently. 3 years ago the Language Flagship cut all other K-12 funding except for PPS. I attribute our 14-year successful ride with the Flagship to the great collaboration we had with our partners at UO and the hard work and dedication of many PPS teachers, principals, staff and of course students and parents striving to improve and make our programs work effectively here in PPS. We established a learning model to use data to drive our work and turned challenges into opportunities to innovate. When we first received the Flagship grant we were one of only 3 Mandarin immersion programs in public schools in the US. There are now over 270, many of which learned from our successes and challenges that we disseminated in publications, visitations, and presentations nationally over these many years. We have made an impact! We are incredibly grateful for the support and opportunity Flagship provided us.

I want to assure you that PPS will continue to support our Mandarin immersion programs as we do all of our DLI programs. We have been careful to use the grant funds to supplement and innovate. We have been careful to not predicate core operations of our programs on this tenuous funding knowing that someday it would come to an end. Mandarin immersion will continue to strengthen and grow in PPS well beyond the Flagship grant.

Thanks for your understanding, support and hard work as we make this final year of the Flagship grant the best one yet.

Michael Bacon

Director of Dual Language Immersion

Portland Public Schools