Comments about ‘Chinese immersion programs in Utah continue to grow’

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Published: Wednesday, April 13 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

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Provo, UT

This program can't last for one year only for the children's learning to stick.

Also, being on a mission to Taiwan I am a bit cynical. Do you remember the part of "The Music Man" where the children play their instruments in a horrible fashion and the parents all swoon with joy? Of course the teacher will say the children are amazing because no one else can tell (and if they could the teacher might be out of a job).

If these students don't continue learning Chinese for years to come these talents will simply be a cheap trick for a Ward Christmas Party.

South Jordan, UT


These children will continue to learn Mandarin throughout elementary school, and middle school, by the time they are sophomores in high school they will be taking 300 level college courses, in Mandarin. They will be a lot more proficient in the language than returned missionaries.

Chuck E. Racer
Lehi, UT

Our local school did the "Spanish immersion." Many of the children dropped out after a few years and had not been taught sufficiently in English. Their reading and grammar skills were significantly behind. Since a student can't opt into the program later and make it, the class size diminishes. That means all the other students have to subsidize those in this class. Our children were hurt by this program since they were the victims of "The Music Men" selling a program that is appealing, but has failed over and over. It hurts many in the program and hurts all of those outside of it who subsidize it.

Provo, UT


Lots of forward looking statements there. What my point was that we better just hope the Legislature doesn't cut their budget (they've done it for other programs) or all of your predictions may not come true.

One other thing to remember. You might also notice the article states BYU grads will be the teachers. Where do you think these BYU grads learned Mandarin? Most are RMs. These kids will have a nice thick American accent since most of the students won't have an opportunity to talk to natives. You know the scene in "A Christmas Story" with the Chinese singers with bad pronunciation? Just reverse it.

Provo, UT

Wow! Lots of negative comments here...

My daughter is finishing up her SECOND year in the Chinese program. We have another daughter entering the program next year. The Chinese teachers in her elementary school are native Mandarin speakers.

My daughter struggled a bit in her first year (which is natural), but is now coming into her own. It's pretty amazing to visit her class and see the kids talking to each other in Chinese.

As for immersion students not being "taught sufficiently in English", our daughter studies math in Chinese and reading/spelling/language in English. And if parents do simple things like reading English books with their kids (which they should be doing anyway), there shouldn't be any problems with students falling behind in English.

My two cents :)

Casey Ryback
Chapel Hill, NC


To be the best, children need to start language-learning as early as possible. And practice, practice, practice.

That is because once facial muscles form (~age 10) -- articulating certain sounds is very, very difficult. That is why there is Adult Spanglish, Adult Kanglish, Franglish, etc.

Plus, of course, children learn at a much-faster pace than adults.


John Adams
Miami, FL

@ PressureDrop | 9:08 p.m. April 11, 2011

There is far more to learning English than just reading it.

Over the years, I have taught on the college/university level at four different schools. My experience has shown that the vast majority of these students have absolutely no command of the English language, be it written or spoken. After 12 years of primary and secondary education, followed by another four years of "higher education" (and I use the term lightly), we are graduating students who write and talk like uneducated clods.

There was a time, and it was not too long ago, that the education system in the United States was second to none. Today, we lag woefully behind no less than 20 other nations. That is inexcusable.

This is the United States of America. We speak English, and our children should learn to speak it well before attempting to learn another language.

If we, as a nation, wish to regain our place as a world leader in education, we must to return to the basics and teach those (basic) subjects that made us great.

We should be masters of our own language, first.

Ogden, UT

John: much of the lag is caused by watering down standards to accomodate ESL and special ed, as part of the NCLB. If you want X percent to pass, lower the standards until you meet your goal! If we would allow people to enter trade/tech programs or to just plain fail out of the academic push that is prevalent in our schools, we wouldn't have this problem. Instead, EVERY child must succeed and success is only marked by going to college. Thus, a large influx of unprepared college kids who shouldn't be there in the first place. Colleges are NOT complaining. More kids equals a bigger bottom line.

If we want excellence, my honest opinion is that it starts at home. Parents must be willing to push their kids to excel. Simply having teachers with high demands means simply having more kids who fail. Success starts in the home.

Learning a 2nd language has also been shown to greatly increase learning in other subjects. Like math, second languages allow our understanding and ability to reason to improve. We should be pushing for more language learning.

John Adams
Miami, FL

Goet | 12:25 p.m. April 12, 2011

I agree with much of what you say. However...

"... second languages allow our understanding and ability to reason to improve."

Can you provide any hard evidence on that, please? That sounds like an awfully borad statement. How does studying/speaking a second language improve "reasoning" skills when graduates can't properly write and speak their native tongue?

Chuck E. Racer
Lehi, UT

Learning another language can be a real benefit, particularly if it causes you to learn the grammar of English in the process. However these "immersion" programs in the elementary grades take away from the basics the kids need at that age, and they cause the students not in the program to have bigger class sizes and in other ways subsidize the immersion class.

It's been tried for 30 years in Utah with little success and harm to many, but it sounds sooo "cute" to have kids speak somewhat in another language, not to mention the "My kid is in the Immersion class (and therefore I'm a better parent)" badge that many parents wear.

Salt Lake City, UT

Spanish or Mandarin, which is it this week?

Eugene, OR

Funny how parents in China aren't worried about their children being taught insufficiently in Mandarin. Their kids work hard to learn English and then work extra in Chinese to do well in both.

They not only work more cheaply than we, they work smarter.

There are more people learning English in China.....than the total population of the US....over 300 million.

Immersion programs work. They must continue through the secondary level. Native speaking teachers are best.

We have Japanese, French and Spanish programs here. The Japanese immersion program was the first in this country. It's kindergarten is Japanese only. Thereafter it's one half day in Japanese, one half day in English.....through middle school; about 2/5th of the day is in Japanese in high school. The kids go to Japan in the fifth grade...paid by parents. Their hosts are shocked. They have seen few foreigners who speak Japanese so well.

The Japanese program has been around long enough that its first graduates are now out of college. Those who complete the program can write their own ticket in this life.

Provo, UT

It seems like some people never have anything constructive to add to a conversation on these articles. I also teach in higher ed and I don't think it fitting to refer to my students as "uneducated clods," especially after I've taught them ;) As far as the U.S. being the world leader in education formerly, there is and never was any proof to substantiate that claim.

The reason we know we're not the leaders now is because, in 1995, we started participating in international tests and discovered we're not the geniuses we thought we were. Are we doing what we can to improve? You bet, but learning a second language is actually one of the ways to do that. There's ample evidence that learning a second language actually improves one's native language, but it takes 2-3 years for kids to "catch up," and beyond that foreign-language studying students surpass their monolingual counterparts in their understanding and command of their native tongue. Look it up at CALICO, convergent cognition, and ACTFL.

Say No to BO
Mapleton, UT

Good idea.
After all, we're racking up debt they'll be paying for all their lives. They should at least be able to communicate with their "owners."

Ogden, UT

I'll give you my own practical experience. Knowing another language allows me to decipher word meanings solely based on root words/prefixes. I have a completely separate path of understanding. Often, I find that my native language is unable to convey the meaning or sentiment as does the 2L. Many have the same issue.

Learning a second language provides a broader view, not just of the culture of other nations, but of thought processes. Just the way we formulate sentences in 2+ languages changes our thought patterns.

I'm not defending immersion programs. I have no idea of their efficacy. I do, however, defend learning second languages as a young child. Many studies show that this is the best time for 2L acquisition and that having children begin their K-12 with L2 learning improves their academics across the board.

Provo, UT

For those worried about attrition, these immersion programs are a 6-year deal. Parents are asked to commit (inasmuch as that's possible) to the full 6 years when enrolling their kids in these programs. We have sons in both the Chinese and French immersion programs and they're doing great in both languages. Also, the program requires native speakers as the foreign-language teachers. So, beetdiggingcougar, don't worry, these kids will be speaking Mandarin way better than the language you picked up on your mission.

For those worried about the drain this program is on local society (e.g., @Chuck E Racer), you raise an important point in that not all immersion programs are created equal. Reports that have looked at over 7,700 different students in immersion programs (Howard, Sugarman, & Christian, 2003; Collier & Thomas, 2002). The effective programs must be full, dual, or two-way immersion. Those programs that "gradually" introduce ELL students to English and reduce the amount of immersion each year are ineffective and just teach students that it's bad to speak their native tongue. Luckily, those running these new programs in Utah get it.

Riverton, UT

What's next ... a Communist Chinese flag in every classroom?

Eric the Half-bee
Bountiful, UT

In "Outliers" by Malcolm Gladwell, the author describes how the Chinese (and other eastern) way of undertanding numbers in a logical progression (as opposed to western numbering systems where the natural progression is often interrupted by seemingly random, non-pattern names for some numbers) lends itself to faster, more comprehensive math skills. Chinese, Japanese, and Korean 2-year-olds can count to 50 and beyond, where most western-thinking kids only make it to about fourteen by that age. Gladwell explains that it is because of this language-based understanding of numbers, more so than other factors, that Chinese and other eastern cultures tend to be more adept at math.

There's not room here to do justice to his gracefully simple explanation (so simple, a caveman could understand it), so head on over to your local library.

Ricardo Carvalho
Provo, UT

My daughter is in a Chinese immersion program and continues to fare well on standardized testing compared with the non-immersion students. As someone involved in higher education, I worry not at all about her ability to compete with her non-immersion peers.

Salt Lake City, UT

South Korea, China and Japan teach English.


This is needed. How can America compete internationally when we can't even speak a 2nd langauge?

Have you SEEN 'Swamp People' on the history channel?

They tell me, it's in english....and have to use subtitles.

In my opinion, this can only benifit the child. Giving them the tools and hopeful curiosity to engage in the world.

The idea of 'In the world, but not OF the world' has been disproven.

My examples?

The Soviet Union

We are very much OF the world. Not matter how many barriers we try to use to seperate ourselves.

Including the langauge barrier.

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