Over 2 weeks in July, The New Century School hosted a Mandarin Chinese Immersion summer camp that not only boosted participants’ language acquisition and speaking skills, but also emphasized the importance of physical health. Xie Laoshi (a.k.a., Jewel) believes that young learners will gain fluency faster when they are learning something new in a new language, rather than focusing just on the language itself. Thus, camp was built around a theme, and specific lessons in vocabulary and grammar related to that theme.
Jewel developed this year’s camp and its theme based on her experience teaching Startalk camp at TNCS in summer 2014 and again in summer 2015. After years of research into how people most effectively achieve fluency in another language, Startalk developed these six evidence-based best practices for replication in language programs:
- Implementing a Standards-Based and Thematically Organized Curriculum
- Facilitating a Learner-Centered Classroom
- Using the Target Language and Providing Comprehensible Input for Instruction
- Integrating Culture, Content, and Language in a World Language Classroom
- Adapting and Using Age-Appropriate Authentic Materials
- Conducting Performance-Based Assessment
Students are truly immersed in the language, but the point is that, through the proven six-pronged approach, they develop the confidence to communicate—to start talking . . . and reading and writing, too!
Jewel also employs the 5 Cs of language acquisition developed by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) that TNCS has been using all along in its multilingual language program curriculum. Communication, Culture, Connections, Comparisons, and Communities inform every language-learning activity the day holds. The most effective language program designs activities in which these five concepts intersect, which is exactly what Chinese Immersion Camp achieves, as photos throughout this post eloquently demonstrate.
For Week 1, Xie Laoshi, Li Laoshi, and TNCS interns Ariel and Mary (who had just joined the staff), started by introducing the concept of a sick panda named Lulu. Within this beginning scenario, opportunities to speak to one another and to the teachers abounded. Why is poor Lulu not feeling well? Isn’t Lulu cute? What do pandas eat? Students at both novice and intermediate levels quickly acquired the words they needed to discuss this compelling situation—who doesn’t love pandas?
Camp wasn’t all vocabulary by any means, however. Attendees learned by doing—another TNCS Chinese program tenet—and made arts and crafts, cooked and ate dumplings by the dozens, and sang Chinese songs. Plenty of movement and physical activity also took place each day. The week culminated with the performance of a short play. Each student was part of a four-person troupe, and each troupe acted out one of two level-appropriate vignettes involving either a short sing-song message or a scripted visit to the doctor. And that was just Week 1!
In Week 2, students extrapolated what they learned about health from Lulu the panda to apply it themselves. The first half of the week brought more arts and crafts, interacting in the target language, and having lots and lots of fun. Jewel was extremely pleased with her students’ progress after just a week. “I am very happy with how the students are talking,” she said, “and they are very happy, too. They told me they don’t want it to end!” She says that she wanted to make sure they remember camp fondly and so planned both a field trip and an end-of-camp party for Week 2.
On Wednesday, campers set out for Rockville, MD to visit the Washington Cathay Future Center, “an educational enrichment center [whose] aim is to cultivate students’ artistic expression, intellectual development, and leadership potential” all against the backdrop of Chinese culture. There, they painted kites using traditional materials and techniques (and were given the gear they needed to get it aloft to take home), ate authentic Chinese food, watched traditional dance, and participated in some t’ai chi. They had a fantastic time, needless to say, even before they received take-home gifts of tapestry necklaces depicting one of the 12 animals from the Chinese zodiac.
Their last-day party was also an occasion to be remembered. Campers gobbled up homemade barbecued pork and red bean paste steamed buns (fashioned into porcupines! So cute!); vegetarian and chicken mini dumplings; crispy shrimp snacks and snack cakes from China; and fresh, local watermelon. This cultural feast did not end with food, however. Students also performed “Xiong Mao Mimi,” a song about saving pandas by making sure bamboo is plentiful. Finally, they watched Kung Fu Panda 3—in Chinese!
If you notice a bump in your child’s Mandarin skills over the next few weeks, you have the rich cultural experience of TNCS Chinese Immersion Camp to thank. If you notice a simultaneous inverse decrease in his or her consumption of pizza, fries, and cotton candy, you can give a similar shout out to Lulu the panda.