Tag Archives: education

Mandarin is “Chineseasy” Part II

Long-time followers of this website will remember ShaoLan Hsueh’s TED talk wherein she explains her pictographic system for remembering Chinese characters.

She was recently profiled by The Wall Street Journal. Here are a few excerpts:

“ShaoLan Hsueh thinks that English-speakers can start learning to read Chinese in less than 10 minutes. …Her book takes [Chinese] characters and overlays simple designs on top of them to help readers make the connections between the symbol and the word. …Some words build on one or more characters put together, so once you master a handful of basic building blocks, she says, learning new characters becomes much easier. Two woman characters together mean “argument,” and three in a row means “adultery.” “It shows gender inequality,” says Ms. Hsueh. Why do two women mean “argument?” In ancient China, “they had three or four generations all underneath the same roof, and the women, they argue,” she explains….

Ms. Hsueh’s book arrives as more U.S. students are learning Chinese. Nancy Rhodes of the Center for Applied Linguistics, a national language research and resource nonprofit, says that the percentage of secondary schools teaching Mandarin has increased from 1% in 1997 to 4% in 2008 (the most recent year available). Meanwhile, the percentage of schools teaching French dropped from 64% to 46% in the same period, especially as schools face budget cuts. The number of enrollments in college Chinese language classes was more than 60,000 in 2009, up from around 34,000 in 2002, according to the Modern Language Association.”

Illinois now providing bilingual instruction to all preschoolers

Illinois this year becomes the first state to provide bilingual education to all preschoolers who don’t speak fluent English. Here’s a fascinating ground-level look inside one of the state’s classrooms by the Chicago Tribune.

“With his navy slacks and dress shirt still creased from his mother’s iron, 4-year-old Edenzoe Diaz reported for his first day of preschool to learn his letters in English and Spanish.

He got his first lesson as he stepped into the classroom. Teacher Tania Miranda asked her newest student to copy the letters of his name onto an attendance sheet.

“Primero, esta letra,” Miranda said, pointing to the “E” on his nametag.

Edenzoe speaks no English, his mother said. But in this bilingual classroom at Chicago’s Edwards Center for Young Learners — a public school in the shadow of Midway Airport — he will receive the same support that for years has been offered starting in kindergarten.

As the school year begins, Illinois becomes the first state to mandate that public schools with preschool programs offer a bilingual education to 3- and 4-year-olds who don’t speak English.

Under the new regulations, school officials must determine whether students speak another language at home and measure how well they speak and understand English. They then must offer those who need it a seat in a bilingual preschool class, where they study basic academic skills in their native language as they learn English.”

Utah welcomes 22 new Chinese guest teachers

I had the pleasure to take part in a cultural exchange to welcome our guest teachers from China.  The University of Utah’s Confucius Institute asked if a group of parents would be willing to host Sunday dinner for two to three teachers. The idea was to show them American “micro-culture” in all its messed up glory. The Hanban, a division of the Ministry of Education in China – working with the Confucius Institute and College Board – furnished Utah with 22 guest teachers this year. In total there are upwards of 40 Hanban teachers in our schools, more than anywhere else in the country.

Helping them acclimate and feel welcome is a big job shouldered by the state, school districts and the Confucius Institute, which, according to its newsletter, “logged a lot of miles” on its bus this August taking teachers on a tour-de-Utah. They visited ski resorts, the Mormon temple and state Capitol, among other places, for a taste of our geography, climate, food and government.

Frankly, I’m not sure what they learned from their visit to my home. I couldn’t stop peppering them with questions about China! The three women were gracious guests, each from different provinces. Two were headed to teach in Washington County, one in St. George and another in Hurricane. The third will teach in Layton. They left family, including children, to be here. And they all seemed to have a keen sense for adventure, which is good (they’ll need it!).

I only wish we were given more time to get to know one another. Here’s wishing them a fulfilling and successful school year!





Why one mom’s son is quitting Chinese school

One of the great side benefits of Chinese immersion is it exposes you to another culture. Getting to know some of our guest teachers from Taiwan and China has been an eye-opener for me, especially as I’ve come to better know the Chinese educational system.

For a great first-person account of what it’s like to attend school in China, check out this blog written by a travel writer/ mom who crosses the globe with her 11-year-old boy.

After three months attending a Chinese school her son has decided to call it quits. Learning the language hasn’t been easy. But the source of his angst is the back-breaking rigors of Chinese education – 70 hours a week of fast-pace instruction with little time after school or on weekends for hanging with friends.


Measuring the success of Utah’s dual immersion program

It’s a question I hear over and over again from parents: How do I know if my child is excelling academically?

The battery of tests our kids take suggests schools are constantly probing the same question. But do those tests apply to dual immersion students?

Utah parents were promised two things when they enrolled their children in dual immersion: that their kids would become fluent and literate in a second language, and that they would suffer no setbacks in reading, writing, math, science or social studies. 

State officials have developed specialized tools to gauge how much Mandarin, Spanish, French or Portuguese students are acquiring. One of the measures, “summative” assessments of their listening, speaking and writing abilities will be given this spring for the first time to all immersion third and fourth graders. Parents will get results next fall. More on that later…..

But conventional year-end tests show that for several years running, Utah has come through on its second promise that no academic harm would come to immersion students. Data show Utah’s immersion students perform as good as, or better than, their non-immersion peers on state reading and math assessments, said Utah World Languages Specialist Gregg Roberts. 

This suggests students are absorbing some second language, since up until 3rd grade math is predominantly taught in that language, notes Roberts. It also squares with the experience of other states and other countries, including the birthplace of modern immersion, Canada.

According to the Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition:
“Immersion students met or exceeded English program students’ performance in mathematics and science, and province-wide assessments in three Canadian provinces found that at grades 6, 8, and 10, respectively, immersion students did as well as or achieved at a significantly higher level than those in the regular program. (Bournot-Trites & Tellowitz, 2002; British Columbia Ministry of Education, 2000; Dube & MacFarlane, 1999; New Brunswick Department of Education, 2000; Turnbull, Hart & Lapkin, 2000.)”

How is this possible, you ask? Scientists exploring the benefits of bilingualism offering one explanation – being bilingual boosts your brain, they say. Studies suggest being bilingual enhances cognitive abilities and may even help stave off dementia, reports The New York Times.

Of course, such research is still in its infancy; there is no direct proof that being bilingual makes you smarter. Could it be that kids who enroll in immersion programs tend to be overachievers from upwardly mobile families who start the school year already well ahead of their peers? 

Portland is testing that assumption by comparing year-end scores of students who won the immersion lottery to those who tried enrolling but lost the lottery, said Roberts. A Utah-commissioned study by the Educational Policy Center at the University of Utah pursues the same question from a different angle.

Researchers compared year-end reading and math scores of immersion students at 17 Utah schools to non-immersion students. To make sure they were comparing apples and apples, they weighted students’ scores differently based on a student’s socioeconomic or non-English-speaking status, explained Roberts. They found immersion students on average scored 5 points higher on English Language Arts CRT’s and 4 points higher on math CRT’s. In addition, they were more likely to be reading on grade level and were less likely to be chronically absent than traditional students.

“Keep in mind the immersion kids are also going up against all the gifted and talented programs in the state,” said Roberts, noting that immersion programs accept kids of all abilities.

Now, back to the language assessments. Are you still with me? 

By now most parents have probably seen the Student Proficiency Reports that immersion teachers produce showing whether students are making adequate progress in their world language. Next fall you’ll also receive results from the first round of AAPPL tests.  “Language is a skill, a skill that can be demonstrated and tested,” said Roberts.

Computerized, role-playing assessments developed by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), the AAPPL tests are conversational and interactive. Students sit at a computer wearing special headsets and are prompted to answer questions by a videotaped person speaking Chinese, Spanish, French or Portuguese. Students responses are recorded and sent to ACTFL for scoring.

Here’s a video showing how it works.

Immersion students will take these tests every year starting in the 3rd grade. Testing for the first few years will alternate between measuring interpersonal listening and speaking skills versus their presentational writing skills. In latter years, tests will be added to measure interpretive listening and reading, culminating in 9th grade with the College AP exam. If they pass, students will be able to take college-level courses in high school.  Here’s a spreadsheet that breaks it down into more detail with links for more information.

These tests cost money, and show just how much the state has invested in this program and wants it to succeed. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait for the results!

National Chinese Education Conference in SLC

Immersion educators from across the country will converge on Salt Lake City in March for a national conference at the University of Utah’s Confucius Institute.

When: March 2-3, 2013
Where: University Guest House and Conference Center, 110 S. Fort Douglas Blvd., SLC, UT 84112
What: In-depth workshops; best practices and hands-on teaching methods; immersion techniques benefit all classrooms; and delve into curriculum and literacy issues

The price to register is $250. For more information, click here.