Apr 28 2005

Steeped in Learning, Immersed in Mandarin

Published by at April 28, 2005 11:00 pm under Foreign Language Instruction

Franchesca Venneri draws a picture of a little fish on the easel. David Trieu draws a toothy shark underneath. Then teacher Shen Yin, writes the Chinese characters for the two fish next to the drawings.

“Xiao yu,” she says, pointing the fish. “Xiao yu,” her students repeat.

“Sha yu” she says, pointing to David’s shark. “Sha yu” is the response.

Shen tells them in Mandarin Chinese that sharks eat little fish. To help them remember the words, she has David, 6, chase Franchesca, also 6, around the classroom, to the squeals of their classmates.

So goes the morning at the Mandarin immersion program at Woodstock Elementary School in Southeast, one of only a handful of Chinese-language immersion programs in U.S. public schools. Shen lao shi (teacher Shen), as students call her, is the lead Mandarin teacher. From Beijing, she taught English at the college level before coming to the United States with her husband in 1989.

Like any good kindergarten teacher, Shen uses role-playing, familiar objects and games to teach her students language, math and social studies. She teaches kindergarten in the morning and second grade in the afternoon. Two other Mandarin-speaking teachers split the other four grades.

The kindergartners start from Day One speaking Mandarin. If a child says something in English, Shen repeats it in Mandarin. Shen prefers teaching in grade school to college.

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