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.

TNCS’s Foreign Language Program Embraces the 5 Cs

One of the main questions that came up in last month’s Town Hall meeting was, “How I can continue developing my kids’ foreign language skills at home?”. In fact, this question has been asked since The New Century School‘s inception, and, as multilingualism has become the linchpin of TNCS’s scholastic identity, parent interest has grown apace.

TNCS’s Foreign Language Program—the 5 Cs

TNCS students learn two languages besides English—Mandarin Chinese and Spanish. These particular two will serve them well in our ever-globalizing, internationally collaborative society. Immersion in another language is far and away the proven best method to learn that language, and TNCS incorporates immersion style throughout the grade levels in varying degrees, from offering complete immersion in the pre-primary program to having assistant teachers who speak only in their native languages (Chinese or Spanish) in the primary and elementary classrooms. For the upper grades, however, a bit of academic rigor becomes necessary if the students are to effectively read and write in other languages. Thus, TNCS administration has been steadily refining and tightening the foreign language program to be reproducible each year. Immersion is wonderful to develop the cadence and feel of a language—fluency—but by its very nature, it is not able to be structured, reproduced, or measured.

These two talented, dedicated women overhauled the foreign language curriculum to be exciting for kids, highly educational, and reproducible for staff.

These two talented, dedicated women overhauled the foreign language curriculum to be exciting for kids, highly educational, and reproducible for staff.

So, jumping off from the groundwork laid by former Foreign Language Curriculum Specialist Lisa Warren, Xie Laoshi and Señora Capriles took over the curriculum for the 2013–2014 school year and really brought it to life. They espouse the national standards set by the American Council on Foreign Language Teaching (ACTFL)—the 5 Cs of Language Learning: Communication, Cultures, Connections, Comparisons, and Communities.

Communication

“Communication is 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.”

Standards for Foreign Language Learning in the 21st Century

Communication, Cultures, Connections, Comparisons, and Communities.

Communication, Cultures, Connections, Comparisons, and Communities.

“Reading is a big part of both classes,” explains Xie Laoshi, “and the kids average about 85% correct comprehension and pronunciation.” Xie Laoshi works very hard to make sure that the students are really learning rather than boring them with nothing but rote exercises. 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. There is a necessary repetitive component, of course, to learning a foreign language, but Xie Laoshi believes in absorption over memorization. Exercises like creating a pictorial dictionary, in which her students must write a vocabulary word in pinyin (phonetic transcription of Chinese characters into the English alphabet) and in the Chinese character as well as illustrate it, reinforces the understanding of that vocabulary word far more deeply than simply repeating it to oneself several times. “When they connect a word or concept with something personal like objects in their bedroom,” she says, “they absorb better.”

Students even write their own illustrated stories in Mandarin.

Students even write their own illustrated stories in Mandarin.

This is one teacher who knows how to engage her students. She has a natural intuition for what lessons and materials will work and what won’t. In fact, she famously ordered and then rejected an entire semester’s worth of Mandarin workbooks and then made her own, based on her understanding of how kids learn. She makes learning active and interactive. In addition to making pictorial dictionaries, she has students record dialogues of their own creation and play them back for analysis (another means of communication). This kind of commitment is critical to teaching Mandarin, which is among the most difficult languages in the world, not least because it’s tonal. “In order to differentiate meaning, the same syllable can be pronounced with 4 different tones, but then it can have 2–10 different characters and meanings that must be understood in context,” she explains. These meanings are not necessarily related, to intensify the complexity. The word yuè, for example, means “leap,” “moon,” “to cross,” “weapon,” and “months,” depending on how it’s pronounced as well as the context in which it occurs! Then there’s the grammar, the “radicals,” the character-writing—oh, and the fact that some words simply don’t have an English pronunciation equivalent . . . it’s pretty amazing that anyone could learn Mandarin as a second language, given its level of difficulty, but our kids are certainly doing it! “It’s okay if they get frustrated and give up temporarily,” says Xie Laoshi. “I don’t want to stress them out; they’ll come back to it when they are ready!”

Pictured is a third-grade elementary student's Mandarin workbook. She is able to both read and write in Mandarin and, by her own account, loves it!

Pictured is a third-grade elementary student’s Mandarin workbook. She is able to both read and write in Mandarin and, by her own account, loves it!

Besides actually teaching Mandarin to the elementary students, Xie Laoshi also provides Mandarin materials for all levels. The materials are all variations on the same theme, but her expectations for how they are used and what the student will get out of them depends on age and skill level. The younger students focus largely on comprehension and pronunciation, while the older students incorporate reading and writing.

Cultures

“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.”

Standards for Foreign Language Learning in the 21st Century

Active learning is the goal in Spanish just as in Mandarin, and bringing culture in is a great way to make lessons interactive. “The big issue is how to inspire the child to learn the language,” said Señora Capriles, “so we cook Spanish food, we make piñatas, we sing Spanish songs, and we dance Latin dances.” The students are absorbing the language without realizing that they are learning—because they are so engaged in the classroom excitement.

Lead pre-primary Mandarin teacher Lin Laoshi moonlights in the elementary class to teach the abacus. he is also a member of the prestigious Chinese American Abacus Association.

Lead pre-primary Mandarin teacher Lin Laoshi moonlights in the elementary class to teach the abacus. She is also a member of the prestigious Chinese American Abacus Association.

During Mandarin lessons, students also sing, cook, and experience Chinese customs. Learning the ancient abacus was one such recent cultural element. Parents might wonder why their kids are learning the abacus instead of working on, say, Mandarin vocabulary, but, says Xie Laoshi, “it’s knowledge. It’s not just a cultural event—it’s a connection between the language and another subject.” An upcoming lesson will be calligraphy, which will be another opportunity to deepen language-learning while learning a new skill.

Comparisons

“Through comparisons and contrasts with the language being studied, students develop insight into the nature of language and the concept of culture and realize that there are multiple ways of viewing the world.”

Standards for Foreign Language Learning in the 21st Century

 “Highlighting the differences among our countries, such as that, in Venezuela, there is no Spring, helps us understand each other better,” said Señora Capriles. She put a premium on cultural experiences so the kids begin to see the world through another perspective.

Says Señora Capriles, lessons are tripartite. First, students listen to her describe each item in Spanish. Next they are asked to identify each item according to her repeated Spanish description. Finally, they must reproduce the correct description themselves. Listen, identify, reproduce.

Says Señora Capriles, lessons are tripartite. First, students listen to her describe each item in Spanish. Next they are asked to identify each item according to her repeated Spanish description. Finally, they must reproduce the correct description themselves. Listen, identify, reproduce.

Connections

“Learning languages provides connections to additional bodies of knowledge that may be unavailable to the monolingual English speaker.”

Standards for Foreign Language Learning in the 21st Century

Just as with Mandarin instruction, Spanish is taught slightly differently among levels. Pre-primary is, again, complete immersion, whereas primary and elementary students not only learn Spanish as a language, but they also learn other disciplines in Spanish. “A foreign language is not just learning words, it is itself a tool for learning,” explained Señora Capriles. “That’s why we teach in the language to make the lesson concrete and meaningful. It should be an extension of the [geography or math] lesson but in a different language.” A simple lesson with three pencils teaches vocabulary words for colors and other adjectives as well as math and geometry when the students are asked to add and subtract the number of pencils or rearrange them in various ways.

Communities

“Together, these elements enable the student of languages to participate in multilingual communities at home and around the world in a variety of contexts and in culturally appropriate ways.”

Standards for Foreign Language Learning in the 21st Century

Cultural studies are a part of every student’s day at TNCS, to learn about other places and people inasmuch to begin to understand how our smaller communities fit together as larger, global ones. Parent volunteers present information on their cultural heritage, for example. These lessons serve to expand the student’s knowledge and also remind him or her that we share as much as we differ. Where the 5 Cs intersect is where language-learning takes place.

Just as Xie Laoshi does, Señora Capriles also created materials and modeled how to teach for the assistants during professional development days for staff. Having very recently returned to her native Venezuela, Señora Capriles has turned over the reins of lead Spanish teacher to Señora Medel, who worked alongside Señora Capriles all year to ensure a seamless transition for the students. Señora Medel is originally from Cuba, where she earned her BA in Education and worked many years in the classroom before joining TNCS in 2012. Adiós, Señora Capriles, le deseamos buena suerte!

What To Do at Home

“The key is practice,” said Señora Capriles. “The more opportunity there is for practice, the easier it gets.” One way to open up additional practice opportunities, she says, is for parents to also study the week’s vocabulary and themes. “I encourage parents to bring foreign languages into the home . . . to bring home books in another language, perhaps, or watch TV in another language.” Also, she reminds us, make sure the kids do their language homework! Xie Laoshi strongly agrees: “Parents sometimes object to the homework, but it is a must in order to learn Chinese,” she says.

TNCS strives to include parents in the ongoing acquisition of foreign languages, providing multiple ways to access and dovetail with their kids’ lessons. The Mandarin and Spanish “Word of the Week” is posted on TNCS’s home page as well as on Facebook each Monday, for example. “The kids can create dialogues and teach and practice with their parents,” says Xie Laoshi. This blog itself offers a Resources and Links page with several multilingualism articles and is also now updated with a list of language-learning resources.

That list is the product of efforts by TNCS mom Corrine Keet, who generously volunteered her time to collect and compile these resources, and by our resident expert, Xie Laoshi. Ms. Keet says, “Thanks to those who sent in reviews of foreign language resources! It’s a mixture of apps, games, books, cds, etc. meant to be useful for helping the kids with Spanish and Mandarin outside of class.”

Before she departed for Venezuela, Señora Capriles left us with this important insight: “For parents the big question is, ‘how important is a second language for my child?’ If it’s a tool, the child will put more time into learning it and show more interest. A tool leads to progress, which in turn leads to self-realization.” Multilingualism is, indeed, a tool that unlocks amazing learning potential. It’s the heart of TNCS, and TNCS students will reap its staggering benefits.

International Camp at TNCS

For 2 weeks this summer, The New Century School will be hosting five visitors from China to participate in International Camp. From August 5th through 17th, three elementary-age girls and two of their mothers joined TNCS elementary students for an opportunity to be immersed in English. As TNCS moves more fully into its own foreign language immersion style, this pilot camp presents a unique way to reciprocate—to immerse foreign students in English. Let’s meet them!

Mr. Lapreziosa and our Chinese and American friends say cheese!

Mr. Lapreziosa and our Chinese and American friends say cheese!

Alice (Cui Jianing*), Grace (Kuang Juoqui*), and Michelle (Ma Rai*), each age 9 years, came all the way from Guangzhou, China’s second largest city and located in the southeast. During their stay, they will participate in camp activities such as cooking and gardening, they will visit key Baltimore sites such as the aquarium and the Walter’s Art Museum, and they will take daytrips to Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. Michelle, mom Kelly, and Grace are staying at the home of TNCS Executive Director Roberta Faux and her family. Alice and mom Jane are being hosted by another hospitable TNCS family.

As is China’s custom, the girls presented a gift to their American campmates upon arrival. The girls had lots of fun together wearing their beautiful handpainted masks.

Having lots of fun together is more or less the itinerary every day, in fact. They love playing with each other’s toys and games, for example, making the most of that particular cultural exchange. Here are some excerpts from a visit to the classroom:

TNCS: What is the one thing you want to do most while you are here?

Alice: (Thoughtful pause.) Maybe shopping.

TNCS: What would you like to do during your visit to Washington, D.C.?

Grace: Play on the playground!

Michelle: Go shopping for long, pink dresses!

TNCS: What has been your favorite part of being here so far?

Alice: Playing with Michelle and Grace.

Grace: Playing with Kathryn’s toys . . . her weaving set.

Michelle: Playing with kitty Ebony (Kathryn’s cat).

TNCS: What is your favorite thing to eat here in the United States?

Michelle: Blueberries and spaghetti! (Not together.)

TNCS: What flavor of ice cream do you hope to get later at Pitango (the afternoon’s scheduled activity)?

Alice: Chocolate!

Grace: Cookie dough!

Michelle: Chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla!

As you can see, the girls are simply delightful! When asked why they decided to come to International Camp at TNCS, their mothers said, “We want the kids to experience a different culture and to improve their English.” The girls had studied English for 3 years prior to coming here, but there’s nothing like immersion to encourage fluency. The TNCS natives agree. “Our job is to help them learn English and not speak bad grammar,” explained the TNCS gals when asked whether they were taking the chance to practice their Mandarin with their new friends. Moms Kelly and Jane report that by Day 2, they could hear a big difference in their girls’ English, so the no-Mandarin-allowed policy strictly enforced by the TNCS cohort seems to be working!

The camp is being taught by a newcomer to TNCS, and we’re very fortunate to have him and his special expertise. Craig Lapreziosa is a former engineer turned English as Foreign Language instructor, who says, “If you have to communicate in a foreign language, you will.” Of the experience so far, he says that the biggest challenge has been keeping the Chinese and American students integrated during learning activities. They tend to cluster off because it’s more comfortable for them. Socially, it’s a different story, however. “I was worried about how to break the ice among them, but they did it on their own—there’s no shyness among them at all,” laughs Mr. Lapreziosa and points to where the girls were supposed to be having their morning snack. Instead, they were all dancing and singing along to the Beatles playing over the computer, not a drop of inhibition to be seen from anybody! Six 7- to 9-year-old girls will certainly tend to be an exuberant group. “I have new respect for elementary teachers,” jokes Mr. Lapreziosa.

With their daughters having such a nice time, Kelly and Jane have decided to extend their trip a week longer to visit New York City, Boston, Niagara Falls, and (of course!) Disneyworld after leaving Baltimore to take full advantage of being in the United States. Neither Kelly nor Jane has been here before, though Kelly got her M.B.A. in Canada. She now teaches business at Guangdong AIB Polytechnical College, and Jane is a data processing engineer. They describe how different education is at TNCS in contrast to home, where instruction is always lecture style. “Here, they can actually experience things to learn,” says Kelly. She describes Mr. Lapreziosa as being very patient and helpful with the girls. The ladies have some good camp ideas of their own brewing, too. We just may see them back again next year, which would be a real honor. They are most welcome!

Fortunately, our visitors didn't actually have to walk here ;).

Fortunately, our visitors didn’t actually have to walk here ;).

"Walking around the world from China to the United States": This related art project was done during Mandarin Immersion Camp, held earlier this summer.

“Walking around the world from China to the United States”: This related art project was done during Mandarin Immersion Camp, held earlier this summer.

*English spellings helpfully provided by Charlotte Chen—our former and well-loved Chen Laoshi! Thanks Charlotte!

Multilingualism at TNCS: Optimizing Your Child’s Executive Function

Mandarin class

Combining games with Mandarin instruction. Hmmm—what does that carpet say?

There’s a lot of buzz currently circulating about bi- and multilingualism—people who speak more than one language are smarter, they tend to earn higher wages, and they have clear communication advantages amid increasing globalization, according to a recent NY Times article. Learning second and third (and beyond) languages is becoming an educational priority; in fact, the language instruction at The New Century School is a big factor in why some parents choose TNCS for their kids.

Those parents are even more on target with that choice than they might have initially known, as multiplying evidence shows. Turns out, how you acquire new languages is also important, according to preliminary research sponsored by the American Councils for International Education. Initial findings suggest that the more language kids get, the bigger their improvements in all sorts of metrics, from literacy to math to creativity to executive function . . .  and the list goes on.

Why Learning Another Language Matters: The Benefits

But before we get deeper into the how, let’s look more closely at the whys and wherefores of multilingualism. Learning a foreign language is not easy for most adults, if the proliferation of Rosetta Stone–type products is any indication. For kids (the younger the better), it’s a heck of a lot easier, which begs the question, why do public school systems generally wait until high school to offer foreign language instruction? Experts at the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages agree that starting a second language early in childhood has many benefits, including increased competence in that language. More importantly, “Children who learn a foreign language beginning in early childhood demonstrate certain cognitive advantages over children who do not.” Furthermore, they argue that language acquisition is fundamentally a cognitive, rather than a linguistic exercise. In other words, learning a new language requires and hones problem-solving skills, which children are actively developing. Their flexible brains are ideal for the mental calisthenics language acquisition demands.

There are other ways in which “the earlier the better” comes into play—increased fluency in both the foreign and the native languages, for instance, as well as more accurate pronunciation and intonation are more easily achieved by young learners. By no means does this suggest that older learners, including adults, should give up trying to learn a new language; it just means that gains will likely be more modest. The point is, the optimal window for language acquisition is during early childhood.

Not only are kids’ brains better suited to the mental workout, but the workout itself—just as physical exercise does to the body—actually reshapes their brains to function even better. Bilingual kids’ brains always have both languages active internally even when they are only speaking one at a time. This forces their brains to be constantly monitoring their surroundings for what utterance is appropriate in the given context, sort of like being continuously presented with a minor problem to solve (or, to continue the exercise metaphor, posing low-level chronic resistance to muscles). Far from confusing kids, as once thought, the internal conflict makes their brains more nimble; they think more clearly, not less. To test this, in one experiment, scientists presented a group of kids ages 4 and 5 years with the Dimensional Change Card Sort Task, which required them to sort the cards first by color, then by shape, even when the color didn’t match (this video shows how difficult this task is for preschoolers). To perform the task, the child needs to be able to manage conflicting stimuli, a marker of executive function (for which we’ll borrow this definition: “a set of processes that are responsible for the conscious control of thought and action”). The bilingual children consistently outperformed the monolinguals.

Merging Practical Life skills with immersion in Spanish in a Primary classroom.

The student carries out instructions given in Spanish, successfully coordinating a progression of cognitive functions in order to assist the teacher with cleaning the chalkboard.

With evidence that bilingualism leads to “cognitive flexibility” accumulating in several studies in the early 2000s, researchers next investigated at what age the advantages begin to manifest and found through meta-analysis of existing studies that at age 2 years and even earlier, bilinguals exhibit better cognitive function than their single- language counterparts.

And, although it’s easier to learn other languages at younger ages, the benefits are lifelong. Bilingual patients stave off dementia in older adulthood better and longer, for example. (See below for links to the original research papers with loads more information and data.)

TNCS’s Approach

Now back to the “how,” for the latest development in this ongoing inquiry, it seems that immersion in another language facilitates its acquisition. So, with language, it’s not just the earlier the better, but also the deeper the better. Language immersion is just what it sounds like, except with an additional nuance in the scholastic environment: the student learns the language and is also learning other subjects in that second language. Thus, math, phys ed, or art instructions are presented in, for example, Spanish to native English speakers. Given the increasing diversity of the U.S. population, the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences is currently funding research on the efficacy of the immersion approach, with all indices pointing to favorable results. As stated above, the preliminary findings show better academic performance.

So, to wrap up, what does all this have to do with TNCS? Well, in several important ways, TNCS is getting it right.

  • First, TNCS provides both Spanish and Mandarin language instruction, arguably the two most relevant non-English languages in the changing U.S. demography.
  • Second, language instruction begins as early as possible—as soon as the student matriculates. For pre-primary–enrolled students, this is age 2 years.
  • Third, immersion is central to TNCS philosophy. Pre-primary students are fully immersed in either a Spanish or Mandarin classroom. Primary and elementary students get both formal instruction in Mandarin and Spanish and partial immersion in Spanish (e.g., phys ed at The Lingo Leap might be taught in Spanish, etc.).
  • Fourth, TNCS encourages parent participation in this important process. Print and post the Word of the Week in Spanish and Mandarin featured on TNCS’s website. Parents can learn right along with their kids!
  • Fifth, Montessori education inherently cultivates executive function; therefore, the pairing of Montessori-inspired and language curricula is synergistic—each component enhances the other.

It’s a beautiful thing.

Hello Kitty signifies a job well done!

Elementary students even learn Mandarin characters, recording them in practice books!

For more information:

  • Read the seminal 2004 article from Developmental Science here.
  • Read the 2009 article from Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America here.
  • Read the 2010 article from Journal of Experimental Child Psychology here.

Ciao! ¡Adiós! Auf Wiedersehen! Au revoir! Zàijiàn! Ilalliqa! Shalom! Sayonara!

Please contribute to this dialogue; let us know your thoughts in the Comments section.