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North Park Elementary considers benefits of Chinese immersion program

By Kayla A. Swenson
Language Learning in Utah

The second Alisha Green’s first grade students walk into class they are immersed in the language and culture of China.

This year the North Park Elementary first and second grade students are enrolled in a Chinese dual language immersion program. Last year the school started the program with Green’s first grade class and now the school has Elva Li teaching second grade immersion students. Teachers, parents and students are working to continue development in the program. 

“The students are starting to understand that they are learning Chinese,” Green said. “It’s almost magical because they come in and they don’t understand anything and right now we are a functioning class in Chinese.”

Students spend half of their school day learning math, science and social studies in Chinese and the next half of the day in English. This process will continue through high school.

“It’s so much fun,” said Hannah Call, a first grader in the program. “I’ve talked to Chinese people at the Jump Zone, Pizza Pie Café and in Salt Lake City.”

Language competency comes from listening, mimicking and watching the teacher’s charades.

“I’m not allowed to speak English in front of my students,” said Li, the second grade Chinese immersion teacher. 

Li has taught English immersion classes in China and this year started Chinese immersion at North Park. 

“The big difference is here the students are willing to speak when learning a language but in China the students are shy,” Li said. 

To promote speaking in the classroom Green doesn’t correct mistakes for the first two months. She wants students to feel successful and want to continue trying. 

“My focus is attitude,” Green said. “If they don’t love it from the beginning that won’t change in third grade. You have to make them feel successful. That has been my focus, that the students enjoy it, love it and it all starts in first grade.”

Next year the school will hire a third grade immersion teacher to continue the program.

Christi Zook said she thinks the program is a huge benefit and is hoping her son can someday use Chinese in his professional life.