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.

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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 :)!

TNCS Chinese Summer Camp: Promoting Healthy Lifestyles and Happy Campers!

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.

tncs-chinese-immersion-summer-camp

Ailing Lulu visits the doctor and is told in not uncertain terms to stop eating so much junk food!

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!

 

tncs-chinese-immersion-summer-camp

Ailing Lulu visits the doctor and is told in not uncertain terms to stop eating so much junk food!

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!

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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.

TNCS Spanish Immersion Camp Gets Kids Hablar*!

Talking, that is—and cantar (singing) and dancing (bailar) and playing lots of fun games (disfrutar un montón de divertidos juegos)!

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Amidst a classroom fairly jumping with color, motion, and Spanish words everywhere, kids attending Spanish summer camp at The New Century School se la pasaron de maravilla (had a blast)! Their parents probably noticed a very palpable increase in the kids’ pronunciation, willingness to use the language, and confidence in speaking it.

tncs-spanish-immersion-camp

Camp daily schedule!

This increased skill and fluency is beyond doubt due to instructors Fabiola Sanzana, who was TNCS Elementary Lead Spanish Teacher, Grades 2–5 for the 2015–2016 school year, and Mariela Valenzuela, who was the Montessori Spanish Assistant Teacher. Sra. Sanzana says she believes strongly in interactive learning: “We talk, then we sing, then we have a physical activity. Students read for 30 minutes, then we have another physical activity!”

She does not exaggerate. As bursting with energy herself as any 6- to 10-year-old, she made sure her campers didn’t have time to feel bored or restless—let alone to realize how much español they were steadily absorbing! In addition to practice with conversation and with learning popular Spanish songs, campers played “Simón Dice,” life-sized Ludo, and “Freeze Dance,” all of which demanded that they understand commands given in Spanish.

tncs-spanish-immersion-camp

Freeze dance champions!

Freeze dance, in particular, got downright competitive as the game grew increasingly complex, requiring the kids to not only understand the language, but to be able to think and strategize in it! Sra. Sanzana even tested their willpower to stay with the game while having the already-out players tempt them with snacks. They hung tough even in the face of raisins and goldfish crackers!

Whether strumming her guitar or waltzing with campers, Sra. Sanzana made sure her students learned by doing, the most effective way to learn a language. Gracias el campamento de inmersión de español en TNCS!

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

Startalk Shines at TNCS!

Our TNCS representatives at the Startalk conference---Admissions Director Robin Munro, Xie Laoshi, and Lin Laoshi--take a selfie!

Our TNCS representatives at the Startalk conference—Admissions Director Robin Munro, Xie Laoshi, and Lin Laoshi–take a selfie!

“I am a total fan of this program!” said The New Century School Admissions Director Robin Munro excitedly, upon returning from attendance at the Spring Startalk Conference Sessions in Austin, TX earlier this month.

 

Startalk Summer Camp

Xie Laoshi, who will act as Program Director and Lin Laoshi, who will be Lead Teacher, accompanied Ms. Munro (who will be providing administrative support) to Austin May 1–3 to learn all about implementing the Startalk program at TNCS as well as gathering resources on curriculum design, instructional materials, and assessment tools. That’s right, TNCS will be hosting a Startalk Summer Camp in Mandarin Chinese this July 21–August 8, 2014!
Program teachers will also include new teacher Liang Laoshi and returning former assistants “Evergreen” and “Charlotte.” The 100% Chinese immersion camp is offered in three divisions:
  • Novice 1st–2nd grade (Note: this division is currently waiting list only): Student has little to no exposure to Mandarin Chinese. May be able to recognize a few characters, say a couple of simple phrases, count 1–10, and/or recognize when someone is speaking Chinese.
  •  Intermediate 2nd–3rd grade: Student can recognize 25–100 characters and is comfortable carrying on a basic conversation in Mandarin Chinese. Prefer that student is also able to read Chinese in Pinyin form.
  • Novice 3rd–4th grade: Student has little to no exposure to Mandarin Chinese. May be able to recognize a few characters, say a couple of simple phrases, count 1–10, and/or recognize when someone is speaking Chinese.
The program includes field trips; cooking classes; dance performances and lessons; Chinese drumming; and, of course, language learning. All meals and snacks are included.
Spots are still open for this FREE summer camp for ages 5 and up! (Please complete this survey to help us place your student. A brief interview with the Startalk Program Director is required; interviews may be conducted in person at TNCS or via Skype. Spots are filled by qualified students on a first-come, first-served basis.)

What is Startalk?

Firstly, it bears mention that TNCS is incredibly honored to be hosting this component of a nationwide initiative to learn foreign languages. Startalk’s mission is “to increase the number of Americans learning, speaking, and teaching critical need foreign languages by offering students (K–16) and teachers of these languages creative and engaging summer experiences that strive to exemplify best practices in language education . . .”
It’s a BIG DEAL. But it wasn’t just random luck that landed TNCS the gig. Xie Laoshi (a.k.a., “Jewel”) put together an extensive application packet that described TNCS’s vision for and current language instruction approach. To get a sense of how competitive the application process is, consider that TNCS is the only new elementary school to be awarded host status this year. Our Jewel’s application really must have sparkled!
Ms. Munro says that the aspect that struck her most about the program is how strongly they emphasize professional development for teachers. “The skill, enthusiasm, and professionalism of the teacher are critical to the program’s success,” she said. “Studies conducted over decades have shown that the professionalism of the teachers and their ongoing professional development has the biggest impact, even more so than the quality of the curriculum. It’s so much about the teacher.”
Startalk, a federally funded program through the National Foreign Language Center (housed at the University of Maryland, incidentally), was established in 2007 and was just renewed through 2020 to “teach strategically important world languages that are not now widely taught in the [United States].” These currently include Arabic, Chinese, Dari, Hindi, Persian, Portuguese, Russian, Swahili, Turkish, and Urdu and will also soon bring in the “language” of computer programming (to be developed right here in neighboring Towson!). One point of note is that Startalk encourages a move away from the perhaps ethnocentric term “foreign language” in favor of the more accurate “modern world language” or just “world language” to emphasize how we, as global citizens, really communicate now.

Let the World Be Filled with Love

At the Spring conference, our three TNCS representatives “divided and conquered” to be able to attend as many of the break-out sessions as possible. They nevertheless arrived at the consensus that there was no need to “reinvent the wheel” with TNCS’s camp theme but that they should adapt it to a proven successful format, supported by Startalk’s 7 years of existing data on how we actually learn language. Thus Jewel’s beautiful (and fund-winning) idea for summer camp, “Let the World Be Filled with Love” went through some late-night tweaking at the conference.
To narrow the theme and bring it into line with other camps, they centered on a very famous and traditional Chinese story called “Kong Rong Rang Li,” which is about a little boy who exemplifies familial love (not to mention Chinese culture in general) and also acts as a juxtaposition with American culture. In the West, we tend to strive to get the biggest and best for ourselves; in traditional Chinese culture, putting your family first is a prized trait. And so “Let the World Be Filled with Love” will actually be rooted in the idea of familial love, which will tie together many aspects of Chinese culture beautifully, and the students will be able to relate to Kong Rong as a peer. (See this tale below, courtesy of Eunice Kwan.)

Start Talking!

To reiterate, the camp—even at the novice level—is conducted completely, entirely in Chinese. No English is uttered. How is that possible with kids who are being exposed to Mandarin for the first time? “Through the use of lots of visuals,” says Ms. Munro. Pantomiming, pictorials, modeling—whatever it takes to communicate. The story of Kong Rong actually comes at the end of the camp, when students have built up some vocabulary and some comprehension and are ready to put it all together meaningfully.
Perhaps just as important, teachers absolutely do not focus on or correct grammar. Although this is quite a departure from the way many of us learned a new language, in which declension and conjugation were hammered into our skulls day in and day out, grammar is seen as just not all that important anymore if the point is conveyed. Communication is the crux of Startalk education, and that makes perfect sense. It’s why we set out to learn another language in the first place, after all. They just want people to start talking. (Get it? Startalking?) Thus, just as we model for our young children how to handle, for example, tense, program teachers will model for rather then correct their students. When our little ones tell us, “I goed to the playground,” we respond with something like, “How nice! You went to the playground!” rather than sitting them down for a grammar lesson.
As Startalk’s 7 years of gathering and analyzing data to improve language instruction have demonstrated, incorporating the “5 Cs” in each lesson is critical. The 5 Cs should ring a bell because that’s Jewel’s approach to teaching at TNCS. So, Community, Culture, Connection, Comparison, and Communication intersect in the Startalk curriculum to foster and enhance language learning as well as make it relevant and meaningful to the student. Make it authentic. Communication is itself broken down into three types: interpretive, interpersonal (i.e., kids talking to each other in the target language), and presentational. This also ensures that the experience is real for the kids. Jewel already uses this approach, too. She gives students a problem to solve to get them talking and exploring in the language, such as where is so-and-so student today? Why isn’t he/she in class today? Simple, real-world experience gives the kids a context and a reason to talk.
Language learning is paramount at TNCS, and, thanks to Jewel’s incredible intuition, insight, and innate instructional skill, the school’s language program is right in step with the most reliable language-learning metrics available. TNCS looks forward to sharing our passion for Mandarin Chinese and Chinese culture with your child during Startalk Summer Camp!

Kong Rong Rang Li

Links

For more information, please contact startalk.newcentury@gmail.com.
Spots are still open for this FREE summer camp for ages 5 and up! (Please complete this survey to help us place your student. A brief interview with the Startalk Program Director is required; interviews may be conducted in person at TNCS or via Skype. Spots are filled by qualified students on a first-come, first-served basis.)
For anyone interested in seeing any of the Startalk conference presentations, please click here.