Wednesday, February 8, 2017

3 things to consider before committing to chinese immersion.

First of all, I have no regrets about putting our 5-year-old in the Minnetonka public schools' Chinese Immersion program. We chose to enroll our daughter in Chinese Immersion when she started kindergarten last fall, after living abroad in Asia for 3 years. We open-enrolled Linna in Minnetonka's fantastic public school system (we live in Victoria), and she loves going to school each day. There are, however, a few things I wish I would have known, or done more research on, in order to better prepare our family for the commitment associated with a language-immersion program. If you're considering language immersion for you child, I'm hoping our experiences will help you in your decision making.

(5-year-old Linna saying the Pledge of Allegiance in Mandarin Chinese)

1. ENGLISH READING ISN'T TAUGHT UNTIL 3RD GRADE: I will admit that while I knew English reading wasn't a heavy focus in the Chinese Immersion program, I just recently found out that it isn't even taught until 3rd grade. This honestly came as a HUGE shocker (it is, however, highlighted on the Minnetonka Public Schools' website). I only discovered this information after I noticed Linna struggling to read simple words in our bedtime storybooks each night. So, I contacted her teacher to see if Linna was also struggling to read at school, and was told that they don't teach English reading in Chinese Immersion until the 3rd grade. At every information session, as well as kindergarten orientation, the "parents' commitment to English reading at home, every day for at least 20 minutes", was strongly reinforced. Now, I know why.

2-year-old Linna on her first day at Pasir PanjangChurch Hill Nursery School in Singapore

2. CHINESE IMMERSION IS A MAJOR COMMITMENT: This commitment begins in kindergarten. A student can't enroll in the Chinese Immersion program after kindergarten. While any parent can make the decision to remove their child from Chinese Immersion, it's a decision that is discouraged, and a decision that comes with consequences (specifically, the strong possibility of the student having to play "catch up" in school).

3-year-old Linna on her first day at Dulwich College
(British Chinese-Immersion school) in Singapore
3. DO WHAT IS BEST FOR YOUR CHILD: Some parents can be very competitive when it comes to their child/children. And, while we try our best not to, I'm guilty of "comparing" my children to other children their age. In my opinion, enrolling your child in a Chinese Immersion program simply because "'Sam Jones' child does it", might not be in the best interest of YOUR child. While it may seem like there's a growing number of parents enrolling their children in a language immersion program, Chinese Immersion isn't for everyone. Does your child have the discipline and focus to learn almost exclusively in a second language? For us, we only considered Chinese Immersion because Linna had been exposed to the Chinese language and culture in Singapore from age 1 to 4 (she attended Pasir Panjang Church Hill Nursery and Dulwich College in Singapore). Also, Linna is considered a "young" kindergartner (late summer birthday). However, she was also very ready for kindergarten the year she turned 5, because we had her in half-day school from age 3 to 4 in Singapore, and preschool for 3 hours a day in Minnesota at age 4. While parents can't know for sure how their kindergartners will actually settle into full-day kindergarten, parents need to make the program choice that is in the best interest of each individual child.

(2-year-old Linna singing "Twinkle Twinkle" in Mandarin Chinese in Singapore)

So, you may be wondering if we will enroll Jimmy in Chinese Immersion when he starts kindergarten. Well, right now our answer is "yes". Jimmy's older sister is exposing him to the Chinese language at home, he's in Linna's classroom with me quite often, and we'll continue to expose him to the Chinese language and culture as we participate in Chinese school events, as well as other cultural experiences in the community. However, if Jimmy isn't ready, or doesn't seem interested in learning a second language, we'll reconsider our current plan for him.

Summer Day-Camp in Minnetonka)

* I'm NOT a language-immersion expert, but I am the parent of a 5 and 1-year-old. The thoughts expressed in this blog post are my own.

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