By Michael Simpson (Head of Lower School)
Although Chinese study has been a part of our Upper School languages program for quite a long time, we have only recently added Chinese to our Lower School program. While the goals of exposure and foundational preparation for proficiency in later years remains unchanged, our method of laying that foundation has been enhanced.
Lower School students now have both Chinese and Spanish every year, all year long. Basically, students alternate their visits to language class. Previously, students in grades 1-4 had an hour of language each week, but now it is up to 90- minutes per week, divided equally between Spanish and Chinese.
We believe putting the study of these two languages and cultures side by side for four years will have a significant impact on our students’ readiness to learn when they choose between Latin, Chinese, and Spanish in 6th grade. One element of our plan is to have the teachers, Senora Garcia and Nusi Laoshi, do parallel studies on topics and concepts at roughly same time. For instance, children could be learning about family in Spanish while also learning about family in Chinese. This will allow students to process learning comparatively and anchor new knowledge to the contexts of two other languages and cultures, their own plus one. Another goal is to integrate Spanish/Chinese content with that of humanities, science, or math when opportunities arise. We expect this to become powerful learning that will allow our students to construct firm conceptual frameworks for understanding language, culture, and diversity.
We are unique among our peer schools in that while some may study two languages in the elementary years, it is rare for those two languages to be from such different parts of the world. To us, it is the difference between Spanish and Chinese that provides the real energy to the comparison of these languages and cultures in the minds of our students.