New Year’s Resolutions at TNCS: Speak Up (in Spanish and Mandarin Chinese)!

Multilingualism is a cornerstone of The New Century School‘s academic approach and a key part of TNCS’s commitment to the whole child. Immersed has reported on the importance of multilingualism several times (and is even named in its honor), but ongoing research continues to reveal fresh advantages of this practice, so we’re resolving to speak up about this rich topic in the New Year!

Multilingualism at TNCS

We live in an interconnected world more so now than ever before. This interconnectedness can bring us together when we welcome and embrace diversity. Thus, being able to communicate with people of various cultural and ethnic backgrounds is vital to thriving in our global society and is among the many well-established advantages of multilingual education (listed below for your convenience).

At TNCS, students learn English, Spanish, and Mandarin Chinese, both inside the classroom and out. We’ll get more fully into what this means below, but first, let’s look at how it all starts. Students start at age 2 in either a Spanish or Mandarin Chinese immersion classroom. As they progress through the divisions, formal instruction in both languages is layered in as they are ready.

Although targeted instruction in the grammar and mechanics of a language is always going to be necessary, for true proficiency, the learner must be able to use the language—to speak it, to read it, even to learn in it. This is why multilingual education intersects so naturally with the Montessori approach, the next division a TNCS student will enter. Maria Montessori advocated for an educational style that fosters independent learning and absorption of language while engaged in “work.” The Spanish and Mandarin Chinese language programs at TNCS flow naturally into this scheme.

While the Montessori classrooms at TNCS are part of the preschool division, Montessori not only lays the foundation for students’ future academic career, but it also continues to inform the educational approach right up through middle school at TNCS with its emphasis on self-directed learning. In elementary and middle school, TNCS students study Spanish and Mandarin Chinese daily, in addition to having many opportunities to use their languages in authentic contexts, as you’ll see below.

Multilingualism Inside and Outside the Classroom

At TNCS, language immersion means being so proficient with language that students can study, for example, Global Studies in that language. Or read a book about China in Spanish. Let that resonate for a moment, and imagine how synergistic that kind of learning is . . . how many kinds of learning are taking place simultaneously within the child’s brain and how they each unlock further potential and space for yet more learning. It’s like a learning wormhole! A learning kaleidoscope!

Back to the inside and outside the classroom part—being an authentic multilingual global citizen (one of the pillars of a TNCS graduate) informs every aspect of learning at TNCS. Here are just some of the ways this happens:

  • Learning from teachers who are native speakers of the language being taught
  • Attending summer immersion camps in either Spanish or Mandarin Chinese
  • Hosting exchange students, interns, and teachers
  • Conversing with students in other countries via Skype
  • Participating in annual celebrations of the Lunar New Year and Spanish Heritage Month
  • Making art, learning songs and dances, and cooking foods that are part of the culture
  • Taking field trips to restaurants and other cultural centers

Individual stories detailing these wonderful adventures are listed at the end of this post. (Hint: and they include oodles of adorable photos of TNCS students past and present!)

Proven Benefits of Multilingualism

For a refresher on the science, here are demonstrated advantages that multilingualism confers.

Also be sure to check out our refreshed Resources page with published articles and studies on the benefits of multiculturalism.)

Chinese Immersion Camp 2019—Wǒ Kěyǐ (我可以)?

From July 1st through 5th, 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 having fun while learning. Xie Laoshi (a.k.a., Jewel) believes that young learners will gain proficiency faster when they are doing something while learning a new language, rather than focusing just on the language itself. Thus, camp was built around activities, and specific lessons in vocabulary and grammar related to those activities. Did you notice the name Xie Laoshi? You read correctly! TNCS campers welcomed back their dear former teacher, and she brought along some new friends from her current school to join the fun. The group also included a raffle winner from Patterson Park Public Charter School (see more about that program in this post from summer 2018)! Students came from all over the city; other schools included Greenspring Montessori and Baltimore International Academy.

You may be wondering, with such a varied group of students, how did Chinese immersion camp come together? In fact, the 14 campers ranged in age from 4 to 12, but Jewel—like always—rose to the challenge. Instead of focusing on a single theme as past camps have done (see here and here), Chinese Immersion Camp 2019 took a slightly different approach and emphasized interaction. This meant lots of practice communicating with each other and partaking in various activities in groups.

Jewel has a lot of experience in teaching Mandarin summer camps for children. (She taught Startalk camp at TNCS in summer 2014 and again in summer 2015 as well as developed her own camp the following year.) She 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. Now let’s take a peek at camp!

Camp Day to Day

This year, Jewel was joined by assistant Miss Pung, which allowed the camp to subdivide for part of the day, with older campers working on skits to be performed at the end of the week and younger campers practicing conversation while working on related art projects.

 

Although camp was not specifically themed, each day had a standard framework. Mornings were devoted to lessons, which progressed to applying what they just learned in practice.

 

Even the vocabulary lessons, however, were extremely interactive. See Jewel and her devoted students in action!

After lunch and recess, afternoons usually meant art (working with clay, making dragon fans, creating blue “porcelain” plates) and other cultural activities—singing, dancing, cooking, and so on . . . even some martial arts displays!

 

Building Blocks of Conversation

Key here is that everything was interrelated; vocabulary was specific to the day’s activities—in other words, campers were acquiring the tools they would be using throughout the day. In addition to placards and the whiteboard to teach language, Jewel also employed Chinese Buddy, a collection of YouTube video songs designed to teach discrete conversational units and grammar points. Campers watched and sang along, clearly enjoying them. Each unit built upon the next, and campers ultimately used what they learned to write, produce, and perform their end-of-week skits.

If your child is learning Mandarin, you’ll want to meet Chinese Buddy. The songs are funny, catchy, and adored by kids. Start with the very memorable, “Stinky Tofu Song (臭豆腐之歌)” that focuses on how to communicate “want”:

Now see TNCS campers!

How about the “May I/Can I (可以吗)” song?

Move and Learn!

Attendees really did learn by doing—another TNCS Chinese program tenet. Plenty of movement and physical activity took place each day, and multiple benefits accrue from this approach. Kids obviously need to move around and release some of their boundless energy, but research shows that learning while moving deepens learning. (Read more about this theory called Total Physical Response here.) In the following short video clips, you’ll see campers competing in short physical contests. They comprehend Jewel’s commands given in Mandarin effortlessly, and she mixes in new vocabulary with the Mandarin campers are already familiar with, like counting, which gives them both practice—so important for language proficiency—and new brain food to chew on. They are having so much fun they don’t even realize they are learning! And don’t forget the cultural component—in China, school children do daily calisthenics, much like what TNCS campers are doing here!

And Now, for the Skits!

In their skits, campers put it altogether. They were all, thus, variations on a theme, but each group put their own stamp on it! The basic premise was a child asking a parent permission for something, the request being denied, and the child moving on to another parent, who then grants the request. Some marital friction might ensue, depending on the group. Or, dad might be Captain America—again, it depends on the group. Jewel said, “They didn’t have a lot of practice, but they really did an amazing job and did everything by themselves.”

Míngnián Zàijiàn (明年再见), Chinese Camp!

Their last-day party was also an occasion to be remembered—campers prepared and gobbled up Chinese noodles with gusto! What did Jewel think of camp? “I was very happy to be at The New Century School and working with the students here again,” she said. The week went great, and we had fun together. I felt like I have never left. TNCS is always close to my heart.”

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 2019—and Jewel—to thank.

 

 

TNCS Middle School Students Go to Town on Chinese Culture and Communication!

On Monday, May 20th, middle schoolers at The New Century School took a very special jaunt to Washington, D.C.—they went on a Chinese field trip! The trip was organized and led by TNCS Chinese teacher Wei Li (“Li Laoshi”), and middle school student whisperer Adriana DuPrau also accompanied the group.

Culture (and Communication) Club

“I really want students at our school to know more about Chinese culture as well as practice their Chinese in an authentic environment,” said Li Laoshi, and so off to D.C. they went! They first toured the Freer|Sackler Gallery of Asian art and then strolled through Chinatown and had lunch at a Chinese restaurant. Li Laoshi’s twofold objectives of culture and communication were thus perpetually being met.

download.jpgAnd with very good reason. If the point of teaching Mandarin Chinese to non-native students is for them to learn and use the language, those are two big factors in achieving proficiency. According to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), The five goal areas of the World-Readiness Standards for Learning Languages establish an inextricable link between communication and culture, which is applied in making connections and comparisons and in using this competence to be part of local and global communities.” The five goal areas are also known as the “5 Cs“; download them here.)

ACTFL characterizes communication as, “. . . at the heart of second language study, whether the communication takes place face-to-face, in writing, or across centuries through the reading of literature.” At TNCS, Li Laoshi has always made sure that communication occurs in “real-life” situations to emphasize what students can do with language rather than what they know about a language, such as how many vocabulary words.

As for culture, ACTFL says, “Through the study of other languages, students gain a knowledge and understanding of the cultures that use that language and, in fact, cannot truly master the language until they have also mastered the cultural contexts in which the language occurs.” It’s knowledge. It’s not just a cultural event—it’s a connection between the language and another subject. TNCS students regularly engage in everything from Chinese cooking (dumplings, noodles, pancakes) to learning how to use an abacus, to practicing calligraphy. The field trip for middle schoolers brought a lot of these experiences home.

Chinese Art

As the national museums of Asian art at the Smithsonian Institute, “the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery preserve, exhibit, and interpret Asian art in ways that deepen our understanding of Asia, America, and the world.” TNCS students were treated to a private tour of the exhibit Empresses of China’s Forbidden City, 1644–1912, which “provides an insightful look into the public and private lives of imperial women during the Qing dynasty. This first-ever, in-depth exhibition focuses on five empresses to reveal their long-overlooked influence on the arts, religion, politics, and diplomacy of China.”

tncs-middle-schoolers-visit-chinatown-in-dcThe tour was extremely well constructed for students. The guides provided supplemental objects that students could actually touch. The girls in the group got a big kick out of being able to try on the long, gold, talon-like fingernail guards that the empresses used to wear—telling the world that they were far too imperial to work. Boys and girls alike were astonished by the slight size of a pair of silk shoes worn by wealthy Chinese woman who practiced foot-binding, and were equally relieved to learn that the Manchu women of the Qing dynasty did not partake in that cruel custom.

download-1Guides also provided interactive activities at regular intervals. For example, after viewing the empresses’ splendid and very elaborate wedding gowns, students were asked to design their own, incorporating some of the important symbols and colors that they had just learned about: Dragons represent imperial authority, fish represent fertility, and the lotus flower represents purity, to name a few. The phoenix was the most recurring symbol, as it represents empress, or queen. Likewise, the color yellow is the imperial color. Symbols like those shown above were also carved into frames and objets d’art.

 

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There were even clever riddles to solve!

1. What has the claws of a hawk
the horns of a deer
the eyes of a rabbit
the teeth of a tiger
the neck of a snake
the belly of a frog
the head of a camel
the scales of a fish?

Hint: The answer is also the symbol of imperial authority.

“The exhibition was awesome. The tour was very educational, and the tour guide was very knowledgeable,” said Li Laoshi.

2. What has the head of a golden pheasant
the body of a mandarin duck
the tail of a peacock
the legs of a crane
the mouth of a parrot
the wings of a swallow?

Hint: The answer is also the symbol for empress.

Chinatown

After a wonderful time at the museum, TNCS students got to walk around Chinatown a bit in the warm, pre-summer afternoon. So warm, in fact, that the Chinese Rita’s was all anyone could talk about!

 

While in Chinatown, the group stopped at Full Kee Restaurant for lunch. This was their chance to speak Mandarin in a real-life situation, and the middle schoolers were instructed that they had to at least order in Chinese as well as try to use as much additional conversational Chinese as they could. They did great, and even tried some new dishes. “I was very proud and touched when I watch my students use Chinese  for ordering food in the Chinese restaurant,” said Li Laoshi. She had one other request—that her students attempt to eat with chopsticks. Here is her tutorial in Mandarin:

Warning: Do not watch the slideshow below on an empty stomach! Delicious food photos ahead!

 

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Everyone had a wonderful experience, and it was a lovely way to close out the 2018–2019 school year and bid farewell to the graduating 8th-graders (sniff). To them, we say:

lets-get-in-touch_chinese-1

Wait—what? You still don’t know the answers to the riddles??? Okay, okay—here you go: 1. Lóng (龙) 2. Fènghuáng (凤凰). Happy now?

TNCS Chinese Immersion Summer Camp 2017!

tncs-chinese-immersion-summer-camp-2017Over 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 having fun while learning. Xie Laoshi (a.k.a., Jewel) believes that young learners will gain fluency faster when they are doing something while learning a new language, rather than focusing just on the language itself. Thus, camp was built around activities, and specific lessons in vocabulary and grammar related to those activities.

Jewel has a lot of experience in teaching Mandarin summer camps for children. She taught Startalk camp at TNCS in summer 2014 and again in summer 2015 as well as developed her own camp last year. She 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.

This year, Jewel was joined by assistants Monica Li and Maggie Tao and 15-year-old volunteer Dylan Wang. Each week had a unique focus.

During week 1, campers “去中国旅游 Visit China,” in which a group of friends sign up for a trip to China. Students first decided the city that they want to travel to and then researched basic information about the city: the price of tickets, the weather, the transportation, the hotel, and the attractions in the city. Their learning objectives, which were differentiated based on the student’s current skill level) included:

  • Purchasing tickets
  • Making a hotel reservation
  • Developing itineraries
  • Conversing with taxi drivers
  • Creating a passport

tncs-chinese-immersion-summer-camp-2017For week 2, campers paired up and studied Chinese endangered animals. Each pair selected an animal to research, such as both of Chinese and English names, current population, where they live, what they eat, and why they became endangered, and used their findings to make a poster as a culminating project.

They also made papier-mâché masks of their selected animals as well as animals of their choice (or bowls of wontons in a couple of cases) with air-dry clay.

Side activities included lots of cultural activities—origami, singing, dancing, cooking, and eating . . lots of eating including during a Chinese tea and snack session.

Attendees really did learn by doing—another TNCS Chinese program tenet. Plenty of movement and physical activity also took place each day to work off all of that delicious Chinese food they made and consumed!

Their last-day party was also an occasion to be remembered—campers gobbled up take-out Chinese with gusto!

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 2017 to thank. If you notice a simultaneous craving for green onion pancakes, well, thank Jewel for that, too (and see slide show below for how to make your own—they’re delicious)!

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TNCS Spanish Immersion Summer Camp 2017!

Just as with last summer, The New Century School is hosting language immersion camps in both Spanish and Chinese for summer 2017 to keep students’ minds engaged and provide practice during the summer months. They’ll return to the academic school year refreshed from the break but revved up to hablar!

Spanish camp took place from June 19th through June 30th. The 2-week camp immersed campers in Spanish language—from vocabulary to activities to culture, TNCS Spanish campers improved their pronunciation, willingness to use the language, and confidence in speaking it.

tncs-spanish-immersion-camp

Camp daily schedule!

This increased skill and fluency can be attributed to the fun students are having both inside and out of the “camp-room.” Instructors Gloria Jimenez (who is originally from Spain and already known to the TNCS community as the assistant Spanish teacher most recently in Sra. Hackshaw’s primary classroom) and Yurisan Gonzales (from the pre-primary Spanish classrooms) make sure of that. Sra. Jimenez says she believes strongly in interactive learning: “For Week 1, we were concentrating on food, so we talk, learn some food-related vocabulary, which is important for the unit, and then we cook!” They also engage in role-playing such as acting out going to a restaurant and interacting with the waitstaff. This is training for real life, she explains.

In between, campers get plenty of opportunities to “vamos” to the playground and get some physical activity in. This is essential for keeping kids happy and focused, especially because the camp roster comprises students of widely varying abilities. Some have never spoken any Spanish, while at the other end of the spectrum, others have been learning Español for 6 or more years. Sra. Jimenez nevertheless finds way to differentiate the lessons and make sure each camper is benefiting. Ages also vary from age 6 years through 9 years.

For just a “taste” of the activities they undertook, see these photos of tortilla-making . . . and eating. Note that in order to prepare this ages-old Spanish recipe that Sra. Jimenez has been making her whole life, campers needed to be able to follow instructions given in Spanish. This is no easy feat but certainly attests to their understanding of the language if the results below are any indication. Sra. Jimenez handled the actual cooking, but her campers took care of all preparations. Also note that tortilla Español is quite different from a Mexican tortilla, as it is made with eggs, onions, and potatoes and resembles an omelette. Delicioso, indeed!

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Another cultural activity Sra. Jimenez introduced her campers to was salsa dancing. She made utterly sure that her campers didn’t have time to feel bored or restless—let alone to realize how much Español they were steadily absorbing! Learning by doing is unquestionably the most effective way to learn a language. Gracias el campamento de inmersión de Español en TNCS*!

*Immersed would like to once again thank former TNCS Pre-primary Spanish Immersion Lead Teacher Raquel Alvarez for translation assistance :)!