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Students in popular dual immersion program get closer to Chinese culture

Published: Tuesday, July 31 2012 5:13 p.m. MDT

Nichole Dickerson and Carter Kearns read Chinese during Chinese Summer Days Camp at Utah Valley University in Orem Tuesday, July 31, 2012. UVU hosted the Chinese fair for more than 500 elementary age students from across the state.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

OREM — Students enrolled in Chinese dual immersion programs from across the state met for the Chinese Summer Days Camp at Utah Valley University this week for some cultural education.

"The reason we are doing all of this is to try and bring them closer to the Chinese culture," said Stacy Lyon, world languages director at Renaissance Academy in Lehi. "The further away a culture is from our own, the more difficult it is to learn the language."

The camp was held Monday and Tuesday at UVU for students, parents and teachers who are involved with both Chinese immersion and dual immersion programs across the state.

Students enrolled in a dual immersion program receive the core classes — science, math and English — in two languages. They are taught one language for half the day and the other for the other half. A complete immersion program is where students are only taught in a second language.

"We have represented kids (kindergarten through 10th grade) with 28 schools," said Baldomero Lago, languages department chairman at UVU. "We are here in support of public schools, support of learning and support of Chinese." 

UVU is rapidly developing its Chinese program as it tries to find its place in a global economy.

"We want to give kids and parents the idea that there is some continuation after grade school," said Frederick White, the associate dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at UVU. He and his staff hope that by providing such programs, kids will end up studying at UVU.

The camp Tuesday featured a program with the kids showing what they had learned about the Chinese culture and language. Chinese food was offered for lunch after the program ended.

To "earn" their lunch, the kids went around to different booths that offered a variety of activities in Chinese and had to complete them without speaking any English. Once they completed an activity they earned a gold coin that they could use to buy their lunch.

"I couldn't believe how excited he was to come here today," Denise Brown said of her son who is enrolled in a Chinese dual immersion program in Centerville. "We live in Kaysville and we drive him 10 miles to go to this program because he just loves it so much."

Brown said she expects that her son's knowledge of Chinese will help him in school and someday perhaps professionally.

"We expect this to be a skill he will use in the future," Brown said. "I was not a big fan of Chinese culture and language, but once we got into it he really began to love it and because he loved it, I have too."

The Chinese dual immersion programs are hoping to teach kids to be competitive in a global economy — dominated by the Chinese.

"It is going to be pretty hard to be very competitive without another language besides English," Lyon said. "With the whole economy being so globalized and China being quite the global leader, it is to our benefit to be able to communicate culturally the appropriate way."

The ultimate goal for students in a Chinese dual immersion program is for them to complete a minor in Chinese by the time they graduate high school, allowing them to study their chosen major in Chinese if they want to.

Lyon said Utah's dual immersion programs have been so successful they have become a model that national dual immersion programs have become based on. 

"There's a consortium of other states that visit here regularly and observe our programs to set up programs in their state. And we have a federal grant to build this model so our model has all the national experts helping us look at the curriculum assessments," Lyon said.

"We have the most Chinese programs in the nation in this state."

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