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World Languages program in schools offers much more than basic Spanish

07/02/2013 11:24 AM

07/02/2013 11:25 AM

Elementary students in Grapevine can’t actually go to China or France this summer, but they’re learning about the customs and cultures in those countries, along with a sampling of their languages.

Teacher Chichein Lu’s students learned about Chinese holidays and celebrations. On the last day of the enrichment camp, they staged a fashion show, made a party decoration depicting the Chinese word for spring and reviewed their conversational Mandarin.

“This is an ice-breaking program,” Lu said as the 10- and 11-year-old campers played with Chinese yo-yos at Cross Timbers Middle School. “Chinese is easy to learn, and children this age will take a risk and try out something new.”

They learned courtesy words and greetings first, then names of foods and how to ask directions, and finally numbers and how to count.

“Some students already have a speaking background in Chinese, but have not studied it seriously before,” Lu said.

Minna Chow, 10, hears the language at home from her Chinese-born parents.

“I’ve learned how to say different things in Chinese that I forgot,” she said. “I also learned how to write it.”

Andrew Bell, 11, took the enrichment class to try out Mandarin and decide if he wants to take it for language credits later on. It seems really interesting, he said.

“I think it’s important to know more than just English if you get a job and visit other countries,” he said.

Selena Yang, 10, said she simply wants to converse in Mandarin with her parents at home.

“They speak Chinese, and I know what they’re saying, but I can’t answer back,” she said.

When school starts in August, students from middle-school age and up in the Grapevine-Colleyville district will be able to choose Chinese I as a credited language class, along with Spanish, French, German, Latin and American Sign language.

“Our community has perceived the value of learning multiple languages,” said Rick Westfall, the district’s Chief Learning Officer.

When Jodi Cox, Timberline Elementary’s principal was named as the district’s Director of World Languages recently , it marked a broadening of the language coordinator administrative position. The district continues to see strong support for the elementary dual-language programs that have been ongoing for several years at Silver Lake, Cannon and Timberline elementaries, said Westfall.

“We’re going into the fourth grade at Silver Lake, which is a year ahead of the programs at Cannon and Timberline,” said Westfall. The incoming fourth-graders began studying in an all-inclusive dual-language environment in kindergarten.

The students now speak both languages easily.

“Every year we’ve got parents who believe in this so much that they go camp out in order to get their children into these programs,” Westfall said.

While there are no plans to expand the dual-language program to other elementary campuses, the program could stay with the current students for a few years beyond elementary school.

“We’re going to need to support that as they get into secondary school,” Westfall said.

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