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Learn Chinese - in elementary school?

Utah has started a Dual Language Immersion Program in Mandarin Chinese. Zizzle has visited one of the implementing schools.

“Hey, what’s your name?”

“My name is Daniel.”

“And how old are you?”

“I am ten. I am turning eleven in three months”

“And do you have brothers or sisters?...”

So recently I have visited an elementary school and was talking with one of the fifth grade students. Now the above conversation would be nothing special if it were not for two small details: The entire conversation was actually in Chinese. And it took place at an elementary school in Utah in the United States.

How is that possible? No, Daniel is not of Chinese descent. But, he is enrolled in the Dual Language Immersion Program for Mandarin Chinese at Cascade Elementary School.

The Dual Language Immersion Program in Mandarin Chinese

Back in Europe, we used to joke about how US Americans rarely knew any language besides English. But it seems that in the last couple of years, politicians in the US have realized that although English is the de facto lingua franca in the world, knowing only English wasn’t going to be enough for a globalized world. And Utah has always had a little bit more international ties than the rest of the US, given their strong Mormon missionary background.

So in recent years, Utah has implement its impressive dual language immersion program, among others with Mandarin Chinese. It means that from the first grade in elementary school on, the children receive half of their classes in English and the other half of their classes, including math and science, in Mandarin Chinese. Each class therefore has two teachers, one for English and one for Chinese. There are now well over 30 schools participating in the Chinese programs, reaching thousands of students.

Proving the effectiveness of Zizzle App for learning Chinese characters

So in the end of April 2016, when Zizzle was invited by BoomStartup, a Salt Lake City based startup mentoring program, it was obvious that we wanted to get in touch with those dual language immersion schools. And in fact, we have been a frequent visitor to Cascade Elementary in Orem where we were gathering data for a scientific study on the Zizzle method for learning Chinese. A little spoiler for what is lying ahead: The data suggests that Zizzle is actually more effective for learning Chinese characters than traditional learning methods!

It’s not like that if you are 26 then you can not learn a language anymore.”

But while conducting our studies and speaking Mandarin with all these bright kids, we surely wanted to dig a little bit deeper into the program. We started to talk a bit with Miss Lin, one of the Chinese teachers at Cascade Elementary.

In Europe, having your children learn languages like Mandarin Chinese from an early age on is kind of frowned upon. So one of the first things we wanted to know was whether the program posed a double burden for the children at Cascade Elementary: They mostly only speak English at home and now they also had to deal with Mandarin Chinese, one of the hardest languages in the world.

“From my experience, because they are young, I think it is not quite the same situation as with adults.” said Miss Lin, one of the teachers at Cascade Elementary.

“They just open their heart and say, let’s just learn. In my opinion, it’s more a question of your attitude and your mindset. So no, I don’t think it’s a problem for the children.”

But Miss Lin was also quick to add that: “It’s not like that if you are 26 then you can not learn a language anymore. I guess what I want to say is that if you really open your heart then you can do it.” So I guess there is still hope for all of us!

Creating a fun way to learn Chinese characters

When asked what could be improved about the program she answered: “I generally hope that there will be more resources in the US for those kids, adapted to their age. More engaging and motivating books and materials. Some of the materials we use are not very interesting for the kids. That’s why I think it is a great idea what you are doing with Zizzle app. You are creating something the kids would want to play with.”

But of course she was more than enthusiastic about the program and concluded: “What I like about it is that kids learn different cultures and languages.”

Well, we at Zizzle App certainly would not dispute that. And as Miss Lin says, you can learn Mandarin Chinese if you just really open your heart.

Have a nice sunday!

Kevin from Zizzle