Chinese immersion programs, wherein elementary students are taught to speak and read in Chinese, are gaining popularity in Tucson, Arizona, according to educators from the participating schools.
Sunrise Drive Elementary and Mesquite Elementary are among the many schools in the Tucson area which are integrating Chinese lessons in their programs to cultivate the learning process early in the child’s development, the Arizona Daily Star reported (via Tucson.com).
“One and a half billion people speak Chinese and that number expands with people who can collaborate or speak with others,” said Global Citizenship Education at the Catalina Foothills School District director Sheryl Castro. “There is a demand for people to speak and read in Chinese.”
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Castro pointed out that learning Chinese can provide an advantage to students in the job market in the future. She said that the most effective way to teach a language is via immersion programs conducted by Chinese teachers. In such immersion classes, elementary pupils use half their school day learning in Mandarin while the other half is used for English.
Castro explained that through the immersion programs, a better understanding of the culture is achieved, while helping develop the students’ critical thinking skills. She noted that second language learners tend to develop a stronger memory and even enhances creativity.
The popularity of the program has prompted Mesquite Elementary to add a second kindergarten class this year. The school still has a waiting list of students who want to enroll.
At the helm of the successful program in Tucson is the Confucius Institute at The University of Arizona, which began inviting local elementary schools to participate about four years ago. Sunrise Drive was the to first to take up the challenge.
Mesquite Elementary then followed suit before other language classes in middle and high schools in the area also began joining.
“Our mission is to extend the program from K-12 and to make it a growing community,” Confucius Institute co-director Zhao Chen said.
Seven Confucius classrooms at the UA provide funding for books, supplies, and Chinese teachers from China. They also help fund events such as language competitions and drama shows for the immersion class students.
“The program is going to be huge, we want to have more classes that will double in size along with more elementary and middle schools involved,” Chen said.