Chinese immersion programs catching on in Utah

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SALT LAKE CITY -- When Gov. Jon Huntsman heads to China to become the U.S. ambassador to that country, he'll have an audience of first graders who are paying closer attention to his job than they've ever done before.

At least nine elementary schools along the Wasatch Front are offering Mandarin Chinese immersion programs this fall.

At Lone Peak and Draper elementary schools in the Canyons School District, around 100 first graders have spent the last nine days getting a head start on the basics they'll need for the rest of the year.

The children capped off their summer camp at school with a program showing off what they'd learned, including a presentation of "The Little Red Hen" in Chinese, and a display of music, dance and art. They sang a song called "Two Old Tigers," to the tune of "Are You Sleeping," with Chinese lyrics.

Lone Peak principal Kathy Anderson says when school starts Aug. 26, the children will spend half their day with an English-speaking teacher and the other half in a classroom where they can only speak and hear Chinese.

"Everything that they would normally need," Anderson explains, "'Can I go to recess?' ‘Can I get a drink?' ‘Can I use the restroom?' will be done in Chinese," she says.

Tammie Todd will teach the English part of the two first grade classes at Lone Peak.

"One half of the 50 students are with the Chinese teacher in the morning, and I have the other half in the English class. And then we switch halfway through the day," Todd says.

They'll still learn all the things normal first graders are expected to learn - just with an added exposure to Chinese language and culture.

"They'll get math and reading and spelling - those basics in my room, and then she does a different kind of math in her room, so that'll get reinforced. Science and social studies and music and P.E. we'll kind of do together," Todd explains.

Chinese immersion isn't unique to the Canyons district, but it does seem to be a growing trend statewide. At least nine elementary schools on the Wasatch Front are offering Chinese immersion this fall, plus there are a variety of classes available statewide at the high school level. This fall, Weber State University has started offering first-year Mandarin Chinese courses to students as well.


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Becky Bruce


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