Chinese language education grows in Delaware

Updated: 2015-01-29 14:11

By HUA SHENGDUN in Washington(China Daily USA)

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Chinese language education grows in Delaware

Students wearing traditional Chinese hat are painting and cutting papers in the Chinese Immersion class in Delaware's Ralph McIlvaine Early Childhood Center, a Chinese language learning program by the State from 2012. Provided to China Daily

Thomas Friedman's proposition that the world is flat came true for Delaware students when the governor signed on to an overseas study program with a Chinese company.

Governor Jack Markell announced a China summer abroad program for high school students studying Mandarin earlier this month, signing an agreement with Wanxiang Group, China's leading auto parts manufacturer, for students to study at the company's facility in Hangzhou, China.

"Graduates who enter the job market without the ability to speak a world language other than English are at a significant disadvantage," said Markell. "And there is no better way to become immersed in another language and culture than to live it."

Provided is a $450,000 grant from the auto parts enterprise to fund opportunities to study in the east coast Chinese city for up to 24 students and four teachers at the Conrad Schools of Science in 2015 and 2016.

Departing in June, the first group of participants will take daily language classes, visit local schools, participate in cultural activities and tour science and technology companies.

It is not a one-time action for Delaware.

To equip Delaware's students with trans-cultural skills in the global economy competition, Markell put his ideal of shaping "the most bilingual state" into statewide practice with the World Language Expansion initiative in 2012.

"World language capacity is crucial to Delaware in order for the state to maintain and strengthen its domestic economy," Markell wrote in a state document, proposing a robust language education plan starting at early ages.

Chinese and Spanish were the state's top choices.

With two classroom teachers of English and either Chinese or Spanish, Delaware World Language Immersion Programs offer bilingual education for students ranging from kindergarten through elementary and high school.

In the Chinese program, a native Chinese teacher will teach science, math and Chinese literacy while an English-speaking teacher will handle English, language arts, social studies and "bridge lessons" to make sure the students are picking up the concepts covered in Chinese.

Fifty first-grade students at Allen Frear Elementary School spend half their day learning in Chinese.

Every morning, Xue Qin, a Mandarin Chinese teacher, teaches a new word to the class.

Daily expressions such as "Good morning", "Hello", "Goodbye", "Thank you" and "You're welcome" are introduced to the students.

"If you ask the kids, ‘Does your teacher speak English?', most of them would probably say no," said principal Tara Faircloth. "She never speaks English in front of them at all."

Same with the students until the third grade, and by then they'll be fluent, Faircloth said.

"We love the program," she said. "It's really amazing to see how talented first graders are being immersed in a second language and truly understanding it and learning it and using it."

"It is amazing to walk through the halls this year and hear five-year-olds saying ‘ni hao' (hello) and ‘xie xie' (thank you)," says Sherry Kijowski, principal at McIlvaine Early Childhood Center, the state's first Chinese language immersion program done in conjunction with the Confucius Institute at the University of Delaware (CIUD).

About 285 children applied for 100 spots in the school's Chinese education program last year, Kijowski said, as more and more parents figured out "the benefits of knowing another language".

According to a survey from the Department of Education, about 95 percent of parents with children in the programs said it had "enriched their child's education". Some 97 percent said their child enjoyed learning the language.

And the students in the immersion program achieved at the same high level as students in the English-only classrooms, according to a report from University of Delaware's College of Education.

Impressed by the success of the existing programs, Kijowski wants to enlarge the K-8 program to 10,000 students by 2022 with an annual investment of $1.9 million.

In February 2014, the CIUD was given the "Spirit of Caesar Rodney Volunteer Award" by the school board.

More than 800 Delaware children took part in an immersion class in 2014, a number that will be nearly doubled to about 1,500 by the fall of 2015, according to state officials.

The increased emphasis makes sense, since the states' high schools are required to have world language tests for graduation. Starting with the class of 2015, a two-year foreign language course is a must for students to receive a diploma.

Pin Ni, executive vice-president of Wanxiang Group, a sponsor of Delaware's Chinese learning summer sessions, said the company was proud to partner with the state.

"Delaware has made an impressive commitment to world language education and specifically to Chinese language opportunities for its students," he said.

Sheng Yang in Washington contributed to this story.