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More easy-to-read books out in Chinese from Imagin8 Press & The Mandarin Companion

May 31, 2021

The lovely folks at Imagin8 Press have come out with a raft of new books in easy-to-read Chinese.

These include some very easy books like Twenty Three Cats (二十三只猫) which has only 100 characters in it.

There’s also the story of Mulan, Woman Warrior in simplified Chinese using only a 240 word vocabulary.

The books also come with free audio on YouTube, so kids can listen as they read, which is a nice touch.

A page from Mulan, Woman Warrior

They’ve also got a ton of short books based on stories from the Chinese 16th century classic Journey to the West, full of stirring tales. It’s a cornerstone of Chinese literature. Imagine The Canterbury Tales, Marvel and Paul Bunyan folk stories all rolled up into one cultural behemoth and you get the idea.

It’s also home to the Monkey King stories, which your kids have probably already seen in cartons, movies and comic books.

It’s not something a U.S. student would read in the original. The edition by the People’s Literature Publishing House published in 1955 is 866,000 Chinese characters long and you’d need to know at least 3,000 or more characters to read it, according to Jim McClanahan. He reviewed Imagin8’s versio for his blog.

If you’ve got an older high school student (this is not for kids) there’s The Love Triangle (三角恋) which has a somewhat risqué cover but uses only 600 characters and is based on a Chinese story called “Lotus Fragrance,” from Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio, by Pu Songling and published in 1740. It’s about fox spirts and ghosts.

My only beef with Imagin8 Press books is that they include English and pinyin on the page facing the characters. Perhaps I am the only one who cheats and peeks at the pinyin, but I always found it better to have the pinyin at least a page-turn away, so I wasn’t so easily tempted.

These folks at Mandarin Companion has also been busy.

They’ve got two new books, each which only uses 150 unique characters:

My Teacher is a Martian 我的老师是火星人

Two students are fascinated by outer space, but when their new teacher seems to know more about Mars than anyone could possibly know, they start to suspect that something is unusual. As they encounter inexplicable events, they become convinced their teacher is actually from Mars. How can they prove it and who will believe them? They may be the only ones who can discover the truth!

The Misadventures of Zhou Haisheng 周海生

Using only 150 distinct characters, this book tells the story of Zhou Haisheng, a fun-loving and determined young boy whose life revolves around school and his family’s Chinese restaurant. Always well-intentioned, he finds ways to help out his hard-working parents with the family business. Whether it’s inventing his own noodle recipe, delivering the wrong order to a customer, or resorting to extremes when a competing noodle shop opens across the street, Zhou Haisheng manages to combine his mischief and wit to save the day.

I’d love to hear your thoughts if your kids have read any of these.

American Students’ Love Affair With China Cools as Political Tensions Rise

May 23, 2021

A fascinating article in the Wall Street Journal from January, for those who have subscriptions. Here’s the link.

For those that don’t, some highlights:

As the relationship between the U.S. and China has grown more tense, the number of U.S. students studying there had declined by one-fifth since a peak in 2011-2012. The number studying in Taiwan has increased 55%.

A professor at the University of Michigan said many of her students have gone from seeing China as a land of opportunity 10 to 15 years ago to a potential enemy or competitor today.

The number of U.S. students studying Chinese in college declined 9% from 2013 to 2016, according to the Modern Language Association. The survey is done every 5 years, so a new one will come out this year. It will be interesting to see where the numbers are now.

That said, the people quoted in the story all said it’s important to continue to engage on a person-to-person level no matter what goes on at the national level.

Thinking about how this all applies to Mandarin immersion, here are some of my thoughts:

  • Whatever’s happening today, life will be very different 16 years from now the current class of Mandarin immersion Kindergarteners graduates from college.
  • Where will U.S.-China relations be in 2037? We have no way of knowing but they will not be what they are now.
  • Chinese will still be the most spoken language on the planet.
  • The United States and China will be two of the most economically important countries in the world.
  • No matter what’s happened in those 16 years, we’ll need to be able to talk to one and other.

So I wouldn’t make my decisions about what language to focus on based on what’s happening this year, but what’s happened over the last 30 — and what you think the next 30 might look like.

Portland Mandarin program to get stand-alone school, but it’s complicated

May 15, 2021

In general, Mandarin immersion programs do better when they’re in a whole school environment rather than a strand within a school. That said, the Woodstock Elementary Mandarin immersion program is one of the oldest and most popular in the country and families have been moving to the Portland neighborhood for decades to take part, so the move is causing concern among among families.

Portland Public Schools rebalance compels ‘immersion diversion’ from Woodstock School

The Bee

David F. Ashton December 26 2020


When the totally-rebuilt Kellogg Middle School opens at 3330 S.E. 69th Avenue, on Powell Boulevard, in the fall of 2021 – some students, now enrolled in other middle schools in Inner Southeast, will be diverted to make up its student body. That much is clear.

The Portland Public Schools (PPS) administration calls this process “rebalancing” the student load of the schools. Providing input for this process has been a group of parents and administrators that PPS calls their “Southeast Guiding Coalition”. You may have heard about this; it’s been in the news around town. But what you may not have heard about yet is what its effect will be on two celebrated PPS programs in Inner Southeast – programs that people have moved here to participate in. The news is not good.

As part of this rebalance, the Mandarin Dual Language Immersion (MDLI) programs at both Woodstock Elementary School and Hosford Middle School are to be moved, in their entirety, to a different school, about four miles north – quite some distance where those students and their parents live now.

Please read more here.

The Chinese Flagship program

May 8, 2021

So what happens when immersion kids get to college? Here’s one pathway that’s worth knowing about.

The Language Flagship is a public/private program that is an initiative of the National Security Education Program, whose mission is “to develop a pipeline of foreign language and culture expertise for the U.S. federal government workforce.”

The focus has been on language: Arabic, Chinese, Korean, Farsi (Persian), Portuguese and Russian.

The Flagship sponsors twelve Chinese Flagship Programs at colleges and universities across the U.S.; each offers unique strengths and provides undergraduate students with pathways to professional-level proficiency in Chinese alongside the academic major of their choice.

There’s a nice web page here with videos about several of the programs.

Arizona State University
Brigham Young University
Hunter College
Indiana University
San Francisco State University
University of Hawaii, Manoa
University of Minnesota
University of Mississippi
University of North Georgia
University of Oregon
University of Rhode Island
University of Washington
Western Kentucky University

There’s also a Flagship program for K-12 schools, you can find out more here.

And here’s a release from Western Kentucky University about students who won Critical Language Scholarships and one, Ryan Richardson, who is a member of the school’s Chinese Flagship program.

The Language Flagship is now expanding into African languages, including Akan/Twi, French, Swahili, Wolof and Zulu.

The Flagship program in turn is part of the National Security Education Program. Its history goes back 30 years to 1991 when the David L. Boren National Security Education Act mandated the Secretary of Defense create and sustain a program to award scholarships to U.S. undergraduate students; fellowships to U.S. graduate students; and grants to U.S. institutions of higher education.

NSEP was created to develop a partnership between the national security community and higher education, addressing the national need for experts in critical languages and regions.

It’s not that students who do these programs have to go work for the Army or in intelligence, but to increase the number of high-level speakers overall. The Act was one of the most significant efforts in international education since the 1958 passage of the National Defense Education Act.

Much of the increase in immersion programs at the K- 12 level has come from government funding, America’s investment in making sure we remain a polyglot, globally-connected nation that can talk — and listen — to the rest of the world.

Without people to people connections, we can fall prey to misinformation. Here’s to more cross-cultural conversations in the future!

Centner Academy in Miami is not a Mandarin immersion school

May 2, 2021

Centner Academy in Miami has been much in the news of late after reports surfaced that the private school refused to hire anyone who had gotten the COVID-19 vaccine, with the school’s owner falsely claiming being around vaccinated adults might harm children.

That’s quite simply untrue.

Unfortunately, a previous version of the Mandarin immersion school list included Centner Academy as offering a Mandarin immersion program.

When the school first launched in 2020, it took over from the Metropolitan International School, a private school which focused on languages and served many international students.

Earlier versions of the Centner Academy website made it seem as if Mandarin would be integral to the curriculum.

However it is clear the school has gone in an exceedingly different direction and is in no way, shape or form an immersion school.

We regret the error.

Rural Indiana Mandarin immersion program wins award

April 25, 2021

from The Daily News

BATESVILLE – The Batesville Community School Corporation (BCSC) is pleased to announce it has been chosen as the 2020 recipient of the Indiana Foreign Language Teachers Association (IFLTA) Wide World Award for Distinguished Dual Language Immersion (DLI) Program, according to BCSC Assistant Superintendent Melissa Burton.

“Our Mandarin dual immersion program is in its fifth year, with our inaugural class now in fourth grade at the Batesville Intermediate School (BIS),” Burton said. “Starting in kindergarten, participants in this program are instructed in both English and in Mandarin, giving them a unique experience not offered at any other public school corporation in our state.”

Please read more here.

Mandarin immersion schools in the United States, 1981 – 2022: An update

April 17, 2021

The State of Mandarin Immersion: April 2021

By Elizabeth Weise

As of April there are 331 Mandarin immersion schools in the United States, up from 324 a year ago.

That increase of just seven schools is the smallest since 2006, though it of course comes in the midst of a global pandemic which has severely interrupted education and causes many school districts to put potential new programs on hold while focusing on re-opening schools to in-person learning.

New schools to the list that either opened in the fall of 2020 or will open next fall include:

  • CE Academy, a Mandarin immersion charter school opening in the fall of 2021 in Cary, North Carolina.
  • Science Language and Arts International School, a private K – 8 school in Brooklyn, New York. It has had a French immersion strand since opening in 2011 and added a Mandarin strand in the fall of 2020.
  • Rondo Elementary School, a new public Mandarin immersion program which will open in Eastvale, California in the fall of 2021.
  • Irvine International Academy, a K – 6 charter Mandarin immersion school in Irvine, California in Orange county. The founding principal is Steven Chuang, who was previously the principal at College Park Elementary School in San Mateo. College Park is a 14-year-old and highly sought-after Mandarin immersion program in San Mateo, California. The IIA will open in August 2021.
  • New Lexington School, a Mandarin immersion program in the El Monte City School District in Los Angeles county. It is a strand in the K – 6 school and launched in 2020-2021.
  • International School of San Antonio, this K – 5 school has long had a French immersion track and is adding a Mandarin strand in the fall of 2021.
  • Oberlin Magnet Middle School in Raleigh, North Carolina. This public middle school offers the continuation of the Wake County Public School System’s Mandarin immersion program which begins in Stough Elementary School.
  • Emanuele Elementary School, a public K – 5 school in the New Haven Unified School District in Union City, California which began offering a Mandarin immersion strand in the fall of 2020.
  • Westdale Middle School in Baton Rouge, Louisiana which launched its program in the fall of 2020 as a continuation of the Mandarin immersion program at Baton Rouge Foreign Language Academic Immersion Magnet.

I fear I have missed some new middle schools that have added Mandarin immersion as their district elementary schools graduate their first classes of fith graders. It can be difficult to find the middle schools because often there’s nothing written about them on the district websites, as parents in the program automatically know where the school feeds to. If you know of one I’ve missed, please tell me.

An update on the Global Ambassadors Language Academy in Cleveland, Ohio. In the fall of 2021 it will be adding a. 6th grade class, the beginning of its middle school!  The charter school has been adding a grade level each year since it was founded with Kindergarten and 1st grade in 2016.  It will add 7th grade in 2022/23 and 8th grade in 2023/24.   

One name change is the Northwest Chinese Academy of Beaverton, Oregon, a Portland suburb. It almost closed but instead (and happily!) merged with the German International School, also in Beaverton. The school now offers a Chinese immersion strand. I’ll have an article about what happened in the coming weeks.

There have also been some schools taken off the list. East Light Academy, a Mandarin immersion charter school in Charleston, South Carolina has closed. And Centner Academy in Miami, Florida was removed because although it originally launched in the fall of 2019 as an immersion program, but instead now offers Mandarin as one of six world languages.

One fun find is Brilliant Star Montessori School on the island of Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands. A Montessori school that goes through 6th grade, it appears to offer some form of Mandarin immersion, though exactly what type isn’t entirely clear what from their website The school itself was founded in 2000. It’s certainly the only Mandarin program in this U.S. Commonwealth and is located near Guam in the Philippine Sea.

Public schools still make up the vast majority of Mandarin immersion schools, 246 out of 331 that are either open now or will open next fall. Charter schools are 33 and private 53.

In terms of percentages, that’s 74% public, 9% charter and 16% private.

Simplified characters continue to be the most popular form taught, with only 13% of schools teaching traditional. That said, some schools do introduce traditional characters later on so students can read both.

I found another Catholic school that added Mandarin immersion, Saint Michael’s Catholic Academy in Flushing, New York. It launched immersion in 2013 by I only discovered it this year. That brings the total to three: All Souls Catholic School in Los Angeles, Maryknoll School in Honolulu and Saint Michael’s in Flushing.

Overall Mandarin immersion programs generally seem to have weathered the COVID-19 storm. 2021-2022 will be an interesting year. Fewer programs seem to be opening and the long-term reasons aren’t yet clear. I’ll update again next year and we’ll see what has happened.