Immersed in Mandarin

A Mandarin immersion charter school is proving popular in Minneapolis, reports the New York Times.

Yinghua Academy teaches all academic subjects in Chinese through fourth grade before moving to a half-English model for grades five to eight. That creates cultural understanding and “real bilingualism,” says Luyi Lien, the academic director.

The academic director leads Chinese-style morning calisthenics. Photo: Jane Peterson

“We bring together both East and West traditions,” says Lien, who tries to balance Eastern discipline with Western fun.

Just ahead of snack time in kindergarten, the teacher, who speaks only in Mandarin, thrusts an orange plastic disk in the air and 28 little hands shoot up. She points to one girl who answers correctly — “chengse” — before dashing to the nearby sink to wash her hands. In just minutes, all the students have identified a color and are happily tearing open their snacks. One 5-year-old asks, “Can you open this?” The teacher replies, “bangmang dakai?” On cue, the child repeats and then says, “xie xie” — thank you.

Yinghua, which was started in 2006, has ranked within the top 15 percent of all Minnesota public schools for the past three years on multiple measures.

Parents who choose immersion tend to be well-educated and committed to their children’s education. Forty-seven percent of students are Asian-American and 46 percent white.

Math results, which are particularly strong, are partly attributed to the Singapore Math curriculum and its eight-step approach to word problems, as well as the Chinese-educated teachers who move through material more quickly than their American peers.

Mathematical terms in Mandarin are also clearer. The word for “triangle,” for instance, “sanjiaoxing,” means three-sided. And when counting to 100, the Chinese use only 10 numbers to build all others; 71, for instance, is written 7-10-1.

China’s Ministry of Education pays for two instructors at the school as part of a campaign to support the teaching of Mandarin and Chinese culture.

In Macon schools, Mandarin is mandatory

With lots of poor students and low graduation rates, public schools in Macon, Georgia and surrounding Bibb County face lots of problems, reports NPR.  Haitian-born superintendent Romain Dallemand’s “Macon Miracle” has brought longer school days, year-round instruction and mandatory Mandarin Chinese instruction for every student, pre-K through 12th grade.

“Students who are in elementary school today, by 2050 they’ll be at the pinnacle of their career,” Dallemand says. “They will live in a world where China and India will have 50 percent of the world GDP. They will live in a world where, if they cannot function successfully in the Asian culture, they will pay a heavy price.”

This school year, Dallemand is rolling out Mandarin in stages, a few sessions a week, with the youngest kids starting first. In three years, it will be at every grade level.

A Mandarin teacher costs the district only $16,000 a year, because they’re subsidized by the Confucius Institute, which is partially funded by the Chinese government.

Some parents are dubious.

“Bibb County is not known for producing the highest-achieving graduates,” says Macon resident Dina McDonald. “You’ll see that many of them can’t even speak basic English.”

McDonald herself has a ninth-grader in the public schools and says she can imagine some students going into fields where Mandarin could be useful, like international business, technology or law. But with lower achievers, she says, “Do you want to teach them how to say, ‘Do you want fries with that?’ in Mandarin?”

The superintendent says children will rise to high expectations.

A friend of mine helped start a multilingual magnet school in Detroit in the ’80s. Black parents who worked in the auto industry lined up to get their kids into Japanese language classes, thinking that it was the language of the future.

Mandarin pulls new students to LA school

Mandarin immersion program is drawing white and Asian students to what was a heavily Latino, under-enrolled elementary school, reports the Los Angeles Times. Enrollment is up:  Dual-language students may outnumber students in regular classes in a few years.

In 2009, 81% of Broadway’s students were Latino, 15% were black, six were white and none were Asian, reports the Times. “The next year, the new classes of Mandarin immersion students were almost exclusively white and Asian,” though a handful of black and Latino students have chosen the program. Few students are native Mandarin speakers.

Students spend half the day learning exclusively in Mandarin, half the day in English with a different teacher.

“These programs have had very good results for the English speakers, sometimes not quite as great for the other language speakers,” said Sacramento-based bilingual consultant Norm Gold. “But it all depends on doing a quality implementation.”

Even excluding the students in the Mandarin program, Broadway has boosted its standardized test scores — up more than 100 points to 869 on the Academic Performance Index from 2008 when (Principal Susan) Wang arrived. Mandarin immersion students were too young to be tested last spring, but the school’s scores could rise again next year.

Mandarin immersion attracts the children of ambitious, educated parents, most of whom are Asian or white and middle or upper-middle class. No wonder it’s popular with parents.

Via Alexander Russo.