It has been almost a year since Sam started the Chinese Duel Immersion Program. It is hard to believe it has been a year and yet he has come so far in his learning of the language. In the picture above he wrote a story about a superhero pumpkin. He read it to us in Chinese during his parent-teacher conference this past week. My 2nd grade homework didn’t look like this. It is remarkable what kids can do when given the opportunity.
He recently celebrated his first Chinese New Year at school. There was a parent program and afterwards they pretty much partied all day. They also tried some Chinese food.
Sam during the “Dragon Parade” before the program
Sorry for the poor video quality. I was still learning how to use video on my camera and playing with options. After this part of the program, we went to Sam’s classroom where Sam and his classmates talked about aspects of Chinese New Year. Sam talked about the Festival of the Lanterns.
Chinese Immersion has been so much fun for Sam. He has really had to work hard to catch up with his classmates but he still has the enthusiasm for learning it.
For those who always ask, Duel Immersion means he spends half of his day in an English class with an English teacher and half his day with a native Chinese teacher who uses Chinese to teach math and science as well as the language. Native speakers are important because Chinese is such a tonal language. One tone changes the meaning of a word and young children can pick up on these tones naturally. Adults have a much harder time.
His Chinese teacher never speaks English. In fact, when I am with Sam she even speaks to me in Chinese and makes him translate or uses hand gestures to help me figure out what she is talking about. When Sam or other students are not around she speaks perfect English. In Chinese “teacher” is “laoshi” so he calls his teachers by their last names then “laoshi.”
Sam’s teacher is Ge Laoshi (Ms. Ge). She is from Shanghai and has been teaching in Utah for a few years. She is so patient and kind and we love her. For Chinese New Year, following Chinese tradition, she gave the kids each a red envelope. Inside was a coupon for a homework-free week. Sam’s tutor, Duan Laoshi, also gave Sam a red envelope with real Chinese money inside. The color red symbolizes good luck in China. Parents leave the envelopes on their children’s pillows with money inside. Sam decided he wanted this tradition at our house. I said no.
Chinese Immersion isn’t all a cakewalk though. Sam gets a lot of homework. His Chinese homework is in addition to the typical 2nd grade workload. He has to practice writing characters in the right stroke order and he usually gets 4-6 Chinese characters to memorize a week for a quiz on Friday. However, we see it as an investment in his future and he has gone from being completely bored in a traditional class to really being challenged and rising to meet that challenge. What a great lesson for kid.
The other question we always get asked, “Why Chinese? Why not Spanish Immersion?” The reality is here in Utah, where immersion programs are becoming extremely popular, Sam had the choice between Spanish, French, Portuguese, or Mandarin. We gave him the choice and Sam picked Chinese. The school itself also worked for us. But I have come to believe that Chinese is a great language to learn. Mandarin is the 3rd most commonly spoken language in the U.S. and the most common worldwide. Even here in Utah we hear people speaking Mandarin all the time at the stores. Sam was so excited one day at Costco when he could understand some people as we were walking by. Also in regards to future job prospects, there are countless articles on the value of learning a 2nd language but according to this CNN Money article, Spanish is the least valuable because it is so prevalent in the U.S.
It’s almost Kaitlyn’s turn. We just signed her up for the program next year. Hopefully she will have an easier time since she will be starting with all the other 1st graders. She also has another big advantage- her brother. Siblings tend to do well together in these programs and support each other. We hope she can maintain the same enthusiasm Sam has because we know there will be hard days.