Frequently Asked Questions
What is Immersion?
A model of bilingual instruction that took root in Canada in the 1960s, immersion programs are surfacing in classrooms around the globe as the most efficient path to proficiency in a foreign tongue. Children in immersion programs master a target language while receiving an academically robust, well-rounded education.
Utah’s Dual Language Immersion Program was created under the leadership of former Gov. Jon Huntsman, who is fluent in Mandarin and also served as U.S. Ambassador to China. This year more than 14,000 children enrolled in Spanish, French and Chinese programs across the state. Also new in 2012 are programs in Portuguese. The state has set a goal of having 30,000 enrolled at 100 immersion schools by 2015.
How does it work in Utah?
Utah uses a 50/50 model of instruction with children starting in kindergarten or the 1st grade. Through elementary school students spend half the day with their English teacher mastering reading and writing in their native language, and the other half with their Chinese teacher learning core content (math, social studies and science) in Mandarin. To ensure children understand the core content, teachers collaborate to reinforce key concepts.
During the Chinese half of the day, the teacher speaks only in Mandarin, using puppets and hand gestures and pantomime to convey meaning and put words in context. From the 2nd grade on, if students want to chat with one another while in their Chinese class, they’ll have to do it in Mandarin.
In the 4th grade, instruction flips with students learning more of the core content in English and focusing on Mandarin literacy during the Chinese half of their day. After 6th grade, students continue their Mandarin learning with two courses a day in the 7th and 8th grades and an Advanced Placement (AP) course in 9th grade. The goal is to have them pass the AP exam, after which they are eligible to take college-level courses in high school and possibly earn credits toward a Chinese minor at Utah colleges and universities.
Immersion capitalizes on children’s malleable brains. Research confirms that the earlier you’re exposed to a language, the better able you are to achieve native-like speaking and literacy. Being immersed means learning a language by using it everyday in context, instead of by rote memorization.
- Improved academic performance. Immersion students do as well, or better, than their peers on standardized tests of their English and math skills.
- Research shows that fully proficient bilinguals outperform monolinguals in problem-solving and diverse thinking. They have greater attention spans, executive skills and memory.
- Increased cultural sensitivity. Immersion students learn early to appreciate the value of other cultures, picking up cues needed to navigate a variety of cultural contexts.
- Global preparedness. Immersion students are better prepared for today’s global economy and jobs in industries where being bilingual is an asset.
“There is perhaps no more important or complex relationship in the world than that between the United States and China in terms of securing global peace and security. Virtually no major international issue – whether global economic recovery or climate change or nuclear non-proliferation can be solved without the active engagement of both
the United States and China, working in concert.” – Official web site for President Barack Obama’s “100,000 Strong” initiative
Mandarin is spoken by more than 1 billion people, making it the most widely spoken language in the world. It’s not the only language spoken in China. If you travel to Hong Kong, you’re more likely to hear Cantonese. But it’s the official language taught in the schools of Mainland China and Taiwan. “Putonghua,” or Mandarin, literally means “common tongue.”
China’s rising economic, political and military clout should leave little doubt about the importance of understanding its culture, its history, its languages and its people. The U.S. State Department’s Foreign Service Institute rates Mandarin a “Category III” language, making it one of the hardest languages for a native English speaker to learn. So the maxim, “the earlier the better,” applies doubly with Mandarin.
Who can participate?
Utah’s Dual Immersion program is open to students of all abilities. But it may not be the best choice for students with communication delays, according to the Utah State Office of Education.
How do I apply?
Students apply through their school districts, generally in the winter before they start kindergarten or 1st grade. Most districts use a lottery system, and some accept applications as early as November. So frequently check your local school district’s web site for updates.
Some districts give preference to children who already speak some Mandarin and to siblings of children already enrolled in the program.
What if my boundary school doesn’t offer immersion?
You can send your child to another school, or school district, which requires some driving (out-of-boundary transportation is up to parents). Or, ask your school and school district leaders to start an immersion program.
What is my role as a parent?
Utah education officials have done the heavy lifting by creating a curricular pipeline from kindergarten through 9th grade. They hire qualified teachers from China and Taiwan, put them through training and give them pre-packaged lesson plans. And they have developed standardized tests to show how much Mandarin your kids are learning.
Your job as parents is to serve as cheerleader-in-chief. Learn a little Mandarin yourself, take part in and celebrate Chinese cultural events, go on a field trip to the local Asian market, or take a trip to China. The more opportunities you provide your child to use Mandarin outside the classroom, the better!
What state education officials ask of you:
• Commit to long-term participation in the immersion program
• Develop an understanding of immersion education
• Read with your child (in English) 20-30 min. daily
• Encourage the use of Chinese outside of school
• Provide community support and, when possible, volunteer
• Enjoy the challenges; celebrate the results
• Learn as much of the language as you can!
But I don’t speak Chinese
Tips and tricks suggested by the Utah State Office of Education
- Recognize that learning a second language is a big commitment for the child and family, knowing that for a period the child will likely struggle in either or both languages.
- Show great interest in your child’s learning, routinely checking in with your child, ask him/her to read/say/show you something they have learned. Encourage your child to be the “teacher” and give you lessons about what words he/she learned that day.
- Closely communicate with your child’s teachers. It’s good practice to get updates about his/her current learning progress above and beyond parent-teacher conferences.
- Make homework a part of daily life. It’s important to remember that time spent reinforcing what your child learns in school each day at home will help make it “stick” for your child.
- Get tips from the teachers for what language games you can play with your kids at home, or what tools to use to enhance learning at home. Our teachers are a wealth of knowledge and can give you advice regarding tapes, CDs, videos, websites and more.
- Invite your child’s classmate or friends over to work on homework or assignments together. Create a learning buddy system. It can also develop a healthy social life.
- Encourage your child to take advantage of every speaking opportunity in Mandarin that he/she can. For example, talking with merchants in stores who speak Mandarin, Chinese restaurants, etc.
- Attend/celebrate Chinese cultural events during the weekend to arouse children’s interest towards Chinese culture. There are many cultural events that happen in our own backyard.
- Babysitters. Planning a date night or an adult only weekend getaway? Consider hiring a Mandarin speaking babysitter who will help reinforce vocabulary and might even be able to help with homework.
What happens to kids after 6th grade?
This year the Utah State Office of Education and Brigham Young University launched the F-CAP consortium. Participating are school districts in 18 states and U.S. universities that belong to the Language Flagship, a federal program that supports foreign language instruction. The goal, according to Utah’s World Languages Specialist Gregg Roberts, is to create a replicable educational pipeline to carry children from elementary school through college.
Details for how your school district implements the pipeline can vary. But in secondary school, children begin to focus more on the mechanics of the language. In the 7th and 8th grades, they take two courses in Mandarin: one focused on grammar and another with a social studies/world history focus. In the 9th grade, they take an Advanced Placement (AP) course with the goal of passing the AP exam by years end. After that they may be eligible to take college-level courses at local universities.
Common myths about language immersion programs:
- Learning two or more languages confuses children, causes educational delays, takes time away from regular instruction and causes children to tune-out.
KSL News quotes Davis School District secondary world languages supervisor,
Bonnie Flint, saying: “We track them from the beginning of the school year to the end. We track them from kindergarten on. Every year, every test they either meet or exceed their peers,” she said.
- Dual immersion programs cost teachers jobs.
KSL News quotes Davis School District secondary world languages supervisor,
Bonnie Flint, saying no one has ever lost a job over this program in
the state of Utah. “Typically in Davis School District — and we have about 60
elementary schools — the attrition rate is about three to five teachers per school. We are only hiring about one new teacher a year as the program grows up a grade each year,” she said.
- Dual immersion programs cost extra money
In Utah funding for teachers follows the pupil. Says Flint: “Whether the teacher is speaking in French or English or Chinese, their salary is exactly the same. It doesn’t cost more for a teacher to be speaking in Chinese than it does in English,” she said.