By Kari Merrill
Wasatch Elementary will be introducing 52 first-grade students to a Mandarin immersion program next year, aiming to teach children Chinese in traditional classroom settings.
The program has already been introduced successfully in many elementary schools across the nation and will be introduced to 14 schools in Utah over the next two years.
According to an information packet on the program, more than 40 years of research on language immersion have proven its ability to help students gain proficiency in a second language. Studies showed that young children thrive in an immersion environment and are better able to pick up a new language.
?The power to learn a language is so great in the young child that it doesn?t seem to matter how many languages you seem to throw their way,? Susan Curtis, a linguistics professor at UCLA, said in a news release about the program. ?[Children] can learn as many spoken languages as you allow them to hear systematically and regularly.?
Wasatch Elementary will be working toward three goals concerning the program: grade level achievement, the building of functional proficiency in the second language and the enhancement of intercultural understanding.
Students in the Mandarin immersion program will have two teachers. An English-speaking teacher will cover subjects such as science, reading, writing and spelling, while a strictly Mandarin-speaking teacher will cover subjects like physical education, art and Chinese culture.
?I grew up with immersion languages and I know how that works,? said Nancy West, a native Mandarin-speaker who will be teaching the language at Wasatch next year. ?It will be more effective for the kids. By using action and song they will learn better, and it will be very, very fun for them.?
According to Colleen Densley, the principal at Wasatch Elementary, Chinese will be taught to the children mainly through context. She said cognitive development and language development are interdependent, so by learning in a classroom setting where children are immersed in the language, they will be able to pick it up more easily than by studying the language itself, as in most high school programs.
Each day in class, children will be exposed to Mandarin through storytelling, poems and song, as well as instruction in basic Chinese characters. They will start the program in first grade and continue through sixth, with different layers of the language being introduced as the child grows.
?[Chinese] is the world?s most widely spoken first language and the third most commonly spoken language in the U.S.,? Densley said at the start of a meeting about the program. ?China has the world?s most ancient and richest culture and a very large and important business economy.?
Most parents said they are optimistic about the program.
Catherine Taylor, a professor at BYU and mother of two, said the Chinese immersion program will be a great opportunity for her children.
?[A large number] of people that live on the earth speak Chinese and with the economy, it?s essential,? she said. ?The teachers seem competent and eager to calm any worries.?
Janell Tuttle is also planning on enrolling her son in the program.
?I think that the Chinese language is important in the global economy, so knowing Chinese could help him later on in life and in business,? Tuttle said.
Though tentative introductions have already begun, the program will be officially introduced at Wasatch Elementary next fall.