Author Archives: John Hilton III

Integrating Chinese Media in Your Home

I was recently thinking about Elizabeth Weise’s book A Parent’s Guide to Mandarin Immersion. (I highly recommend this book by the way and it’s currently a bargain on Kindle at $2.99). One part of the book that has really stuck out to me is an analogy she uses about visiting a home and noticing that there are no books on the shelves. None. In fact, no books in the whole house. Would we be surprised if the child struggled a bit with reading? This scenario in fact describes (for most of us) our homes – in terms of Chinese books and media. So the question is, what will do as parents to provide opportunities for our children to learn Chinese?

The Chinese Breeze book series is a good choice for students (the easiest level can probably be read by 5th graders). The link only goes to four of the books, but there are more in the series. We’ve also written before (here and here) about resources for parents in terms of a variety of shows and activities that kids can participate in.

Recently my family has enjoyed watching the Chinese Drama series “A Love So Beautiful.” It’s a fun, squeaky clean show that follows the story of five high school students in China. English subtitles are available (and for most students will be necessary for full comprehension). But it’s a fun way to practice Chinese listening skills and some cultural insights will come as well. Consider having a Chinese movie night where you watch an episode or two together. Hopefully your children will like it enough to keep going!

Another great series is “Love 020.” This series is a little more intense than “A Love So Beautiful” as it takes place on a college campus and includes scenes that take place in a fantasy world, but it’s still very clean and my kids have loved it so far.

Searching YouTube, Amazon, and other venues will yield further movies and books that could entice your children to spend a little more time immersed in Chinese. We welcome any comments as to specific media you have used to help your children practice their Chinese in the home!

Earning Advanced Language College Credit in High School

In a previous post we outlined what happens to high school students who have successfully completed their grades 1-8 immersion experience. We also have highlighted how this has worked out for those taking Spanish Immersion (which is a couple of years ahead of Chinese Immersion) in its development.

In this post we want to give an update on what is called the “bridge program,” in which students who have passed the AP Language and Culture test with a score of 3 or higher can take college courses in 10-12 grade. “The Bridge Program is a partnership between high schools and all of Utah’s public institutions of higher education. Credit from Bridge Courses will be accepted by all universities towards a minor/ major in the language of study.” Discussion are also underway with Brigham Young University, the largest private institute of higher education in the state to accept these classes as well.

The “Bridge courses” are college level courses, with different courses being offered in 10th, 11th and 12th grades – helping students earn both high school and college credit. These are advanced 3000-level university courses. Typically, five such courses would be required to minor in a foreign language. This means that students can graduate from high school just two classes short of a minor in the foreign language. In some cases universities may offer majors as well or opportunities for students to dive deep into the major along with language (e.g., study abroad experiences or internships in China).

For updated information on which colleges in the state have Chinese majors and minors, please see the FAQ page for the Bridge Program.

Update** The below comes from Jill Landes-Lee Bridge Program, state director:

“If I’d like to offer some additional information on the credits after high school that would lead to a minor or major. In accordance with Senator Stephenson’s SB152, all public institutions in Utah shall accept the Bridge Course credit toward a minor/major pathway. However, each university has slightly unique requirements for a minor/major, so when students arrive on campus it’s predicted that departments will require 2 or 3 additional courses for the minor. We will continue to work with departments across the state to learn about and publish their minor/major pathways over the next few years, preparing for DLI/Bridge students to arrive on our campuses in 2022-23. Exciting times! Please continue to check our website for updates.

Immersion and the Shift to Junior High

Like many parents who enroll their children in an elementary language immersion program, I had (and still have) high hopes that my children will continue the program in junior high. I’m very impressed with the Utah state model, which is designed to have students spend one-half of their days in the target language (grades 1-6) and then take language classes in junior high, with students taking the AP test in 9th grade. The current plan is that in grades 10-12 students will be able to take college classes (perhaps via some type of distance education) and be just a couple of classes short of receiving a minor in the target language. See more details on the Utah model.

Originally Utah planned that junior high students would take two classes in their target language – a language class and history taught in the target language. The plans have morphed somewhat, and their current approach is that in 7th and 8th students will take an honors immersion language course, and, if desired, a repeatable one-semester culture and media course, and then an AP course in 9th grade.

A few months before my oldest daughter was about to enter 7th grade, the Provo school district held a meeting for parents to talk about the transition from 6th to 7th grade. One of the biggest challenges was that typically 7th grade students in the Provo students only get 1.5 electives. So if a student wanted to take Honors Chinese plus one Chinese Culture and Media course, it would eat up all of her electives. Many parents were concerned because they hoped their children could take band/orchestra/choir/dance/art/etc. This was a major issue and the district determined that it would need to take some time to figure out how to resolve it.

In my view, the solution the district came up with was brilliant. They found a way to be flexible and let each student tailor his/her own “best schedule.” There are several classes that traditionally most seventh graders in the Provo School District have taken (e.g., health, PE, art, etc.). The district allowed parents to select which traditionally required classes (if any) that they wanted their students to opt out of, and which electives they wanted their child to take. In our case, my daughter chose to opt out of Art, Health, PE and Utah history. That allowed her to take 1.5 credits of Chinese, plus orchestra, social dance, and creative writing.

Many districts will be shifting into junior high immersion over the next few years. In my opinion it would be advantageous for parents and junior high / district administrators to meet together well before the school year starts and look carefully at the requirements for 7th graders and how to be flexible with students who want to continue their language studies and also take full-year electives, such as choir.

Update, based on Joani’s comment. My understanding (based on discussions with two districts, but I could be wrong) is that because 7th grade does not count towards graduation that districts have flexibility in what they actually require. While parents could have their child enroll in an online health class, or something like that, it is not required for graduation.

How Can I Help My Child Learn Mandarin When I Don’t Speak It?

Often parents worry about how they will be able to help their children learn how to speak Chinese when they themselves don’t speak it. It can feel as daunting as hiking the complete length of the great wall of China!

But don’t worry! You don’t have to speak any Mandarin for your children to succeed. At the same time, you can provide your children with time to practice their Chinese during the school week. Just as skills like reading English and doing math need to be reinforced at home, so do the Chinese skills your child is learning. This does not need to be incredibly time-consuming. Fifteen to thirty minutes of Chinese time each school night can give your child the reinforcement he or she needs. The following are suggestions of how non-Chinese speaking parents can help create this Chinese time for their children.

1. Support your child in doing any Chinese homework they have. For example if s/he has a take home reading book listen to your child read it. If your child has spelling words, have them write the words two or three times each night. If your child doesn’t have homework, ask your teacher for some, or use some of the below resources. 15-30 minutes of Chinese practice at home can definitely help your child learn Chinese.

2. Currently, some schools use a Singapore reading curriculum. You access their website and have your children read you the books they are studying in school. The website can be a little difficult to navigate because it’s in Chinese, but don’t be intimidated – it really isn’t that hard, especially because your child can probably figure it out. If that fails, contact your child’s teacher.

3. Some students use Better Chinese. Your school may provide free or discounted membership; it is typically about $25.00 a year. Having your children read you the online stories can be very helpful for them to reinforce their reading skills.

4. Math flashcards that children can use to remember math vocabulary. (English translation here).

5. Digital flashcards based on the key vocab words are available to help your children reinforce their skills. First grade, second grade, third grade, fourth grade. Notice that there are some games that can be played. Some are harder than others, “Scatter” is one that many children will enjoy.

6. Practice reading with Chinese Immersion teachers from Canada reading Chinese books.

7. Let your children watch Chinese video clips. For example, they can watch Dora the Explorer or  Spongebob Squarepants (note – both of those links are to YouTube-like sites that display ads. Putting the display to full-screen often eliminates the ad. Both of those links are for individual episodes; additional episodes appear underneath). Younger learners might enjoy Sesame Street or Thomas the Train in Chinese. Several other videos, songs, etc. are linked here.

Dora Chinese

8. Connect with other parents of immersion students and work together. Get connected if you aren’t already.

9. Help your children type in Chinese. This YouTube video explains how to make it so that you can type Chinese characters on your computer. Some children will have fun typing letters to each other using characters. For those who like pinyin, this macro can help you quickly transform a word like “wo3” into “wǒ.”

10. If you have a smart device, get some apps for your kids to play with. Speak and Learn Pro (iOS only) works like Rosetta stone, but much cheaper ($9.99). Should be a fun review for most students and a good way to reinforce learning.

The main thing is to keep on trying — a consistent effort to help your child spent 15-30 minutes a day having fun with Chinese at home can pay big dividends.

What tools/ideas have you found to be successful?