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.)

MD Secretary of State Visits TNCS!

On Wednesday, October 17th, The New Century School welcomed some very illustrious guests. Maryland’s Secretary of State John C. Wobensmith, Director of International Affairs Mary E. Nitsch, and intern Rosanna Mantova (Intern, International Division, Maryland Office of the Secretary of State) visited the TNCS campus to see the Mandarin Chinese program firsthand. Secretary Wobensmith met TNCS Co-Founder/Co-Executive Director Roberta Faux earlier this year, who told him about TNCS. Based on her description of how Mandarin Chinese is taught at TNCS, he was eager to see it for himself. As part of the Maryland Sister States Program, Secretary Wobensmith and his team find ways to promote the connection between Maryland and Anhui Province of China, and education is a key area.

Ms. Nitsch explains:

Anhui Province, China, is one of 20 Sister States that Maryland has around the world. It is also the state’s oldest Sister State partnership, having been established in 1980. The program was established to provide a forum for the promotion of international cooperation and understanding. Through broad-based citizen participation in a wide variety of exchanges in areas of mutual interest, like education, arts, and culture, and economic development, the Sister States Program offers countless opportunities to develop partnerships around the world.

Mandarin Chinese Program at TNCS

It was easy to showcase TNCS’s program, owing to the amazing teachers and students who participate. The members of the Office were met at reception by Ms. Faux, TNCS Head of School Shara Khon Duncan, TNCS Dean of Students Alicia Danyali, and staff member Monica Li. After a brief welcome, the group began a tour of the school, starting from the ground up with Donghui Song’s preprimary classroom of 2- and 3-year-old students. Song Laoshi’s class is immersive; students are spoken to in Mandarin Chinese throughout the day. They are expected to understand and respond with the appropriate action to instructions given in Mandarin—and they do so beautifully. Not long after entering the classroom for the first time, they begin speaking a few words and singing songs.

The group next visited Lisa Reynolds’ primary classroom on the second floor. At ages 3 through 5 years, primary students are no longer in an immersion environment but are taught both Mandarin Chinese and Spanish (in addition to the Montessori curriculum representative of the primary program) and have native-speaking assistant teachers rotating through the classrooms and conversing with and instructing students in their native languages. At these ages, students are not just responding to instructions but are rapidly increasing their verbal skills. They demonstrate perfect intonation and pronunciation. They begin to recognize Chinese characters.

They charmed the visitors, saying “hello” and “welcome” in Mandarin.

Hope to see you again!

The group continued their climb through building south, headed next to Pei Ge’s kindergarten/1st-grade classroom on the third floor. The members of the Office of Secretary of State were very impressed by what they witnessed here. The entire classroom was bubbling with eagerness, a testament to Ge Laoshi’s teaching skills, and their Mandarin is nothing short of amazing.

Throughout the tour, Ms. Faux explained details about the school and its approach. “It’s less about being a linguist,” she said, “and really more about becoming a global citizen.” Thus, culture is an important emphasis and taught alongside the target language. So the visitors could get the full picture, the group also visited Barbara Sanchez’s 2nd-/3rd-grade Spanish classroom. These students also learn Mandarin, but, at the mid-to-upper elementary level, core subjects are partially taught in the target language, so, in addition to Spanish Language Arts, Sra. Sanchez integrates Spanish into her Math and Global Studies lessons.

Ms. Faux gave a quick powerpoint overview of the school, including the background, history, and overall ethos, and then the group finished up their classroom tour in Wei Li’s middle school lesson. Li Laoshi led the 6th- through 8th-graders in a conversation in Mandarin, then had them write sentences using Chinese characters and finish by making a presentation.

The group wrapped up the tour in TNCS’s beautiful Union Box space inside building North, which provided a chance to talk about the history of St. Stanislaus Cathedral and the Mother Seton Academy, and how they became part of TNCS’s campus.

Said Ms. Nitsch in a follow-up email: “One of the nicest parts of my job is having the opportunity to personally experience so many of the wonderful international programs and projects that are taking place around the state. As a former ESL teacher, I truly appreciate how important multilingualism and multiculturalism are to our state and country’s future success. And, as a Baltimore resident, it’s inspiring to know we have such wonderful resources like TNCS here in the city.”

For his part, Secretary Wobensmith declared himself “totally smitten” with TNCS. “Your enterprise. . .  is a remarkable effort, and it struck me that you have done it exactly right in all aspects. Congratulations!” he said. When he asked Ms. Faux about the possibility of expanding to other locations, she thought for a moment and then replied, “We have built a very strong community here, and that might be hard to replicate somewhere else.” It’s true—that foundation of families, teachers, students, staff, and everyone else who is part of the TNCS community is integral to the school’s continued success.

The visit by the members of the Office of the Secretary of State will not soon be forgotten. TNCS will cherish the memory of this great honor!


Meet TNCS’s Newest Chinese Teachers!

On August 8th, 2014, The New Century School welcomed two new teachers from China, Cong (a.k.a., “Grace”) Jun and Fan (a.k.a., “Fiona”) Hongtao, courtesy of the Confucius Institute. Our new guests will remain with us for 1 year to fulfill their contract with the Confucius Institute (which hosts teacher-training programs for teaching Chinese as a foreign language) and are rooming together in Fell’s Point in a TNCS apartment used to accommodate out-of-town staff. The teachers have been in Baltimore exactly 2 months now and have settled in nicely, so this is a great chance to get to know them better! In their words, this post “is a great channel for more parents and staff members of TNCS to get to know us.” This is the first visit to the United States for both of them.


Cong Laoshi, from Shandong Province, will be teaching and volunteering at TNCS for 1 year.

Cong (pronounced “tsong”) Laoshi is from Liaocheng city, in the Shandong Province of China. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Liaocheng University. Before joining TNCS, she worked as an educator for more than 20 years and has won many awards and accolades for excellent teaching. She is now very interested in primary education, which she believes is the most important period in a person’s life. She has been exploring interesting ways to teach children. Cong Laoshi plans to share Chinese art, culture, and cuisine with TNCS’s community.

When asked what she is most enjoying about being here so far, Cong Laoshi replied, “I like the children here, and I like the teachers. I especially like the parents—everyone is so friendly and kind. Everyone cooperates so well together—perhaps our school is famous for this?” You are indeed correct, Cong Laoshi! TNCS is very big on community building :)! This is her first time in the United States, and she is enjoying this trip. She plans to travel when she can and has already visited Washington, D.C. along with Fan Laoshi, in addition to Baltimore. Her favorite food so far is the iconic American hot dog, which she eats as often as she can.

The Confucius Institute connected Cong Laoshi to TNCS. After a series of tests at progressively larger levels (i.e., local up through provincial), she came out on top and was selected by the institute to become a teacher/volunteer in the United States. When she interviewed with Xie Laoshi (a.k.a., “Jewel”) via Skype, she says that the type of education TNCS offered appealed to her very much. Moreover, “it was a good chance for me to learn about the real America,” she said. “I will have a chance to communicate with many educators.” She laughed when she explained the irony that she had been teaching English in China for the last 10 years, then flipped and came to the United States to teach Chinese!


Fan Laoshi, from Liaoning Province, will be teaching and volunteering at TNCS for 1 year.

Fan (pronounced “fun”) Laoshi is from the Liaoning Province of China. She was an English major in college and is now an Associate Professor of English. She says she has always had a dream to come to the United States and that, for many Chinese, coming to America to pursue their dreams signifies their diligence and is a symbol of excellence. For Fan Laoshi, the United States shares similarities with her homeland and also offers differences. “The local people are so friendly; this was my first impression of America,” she said. “I was also pleased to find that the climate here is very similar to what I am accustomed to in the Northeast of China. Baltimore has a clear division of four seasons, just like we do,” she said.

Fan Laoshi also connected with TNCS via the Confucius Institute. In order to advance in her career, she says, she needs to work at least 3 months in an English-speaking country, but she also wants to “broaden her horizons personally,” she said. “The teaching environment at TNCS is so different here from that of my local university. I get the opportunity to perceive the local culture, the American way of life, and the American way of education. This is the biggest achievement for me.” She particularly wanted to work at TNCS, she says, because she has a 7-year-old daughter in Grade 2 in China and wanted to be in a comparable stage in an American elementary school. The parental point of view on education is also something she is enjoying studying.

Fan Laoshi is amused by how independent even the youngest TNCS students are and how they assert themselves. She attributes this can-do attitude largely to the Montessori approach and says she hopes to employ some of it back in China. “We should learn to give our children more freedom, more space,” she said. She feels very lucky to be working at TNCS and respects the educational style.

Our two teacher/volunteers alternate mornings and afternoons in Mr. Warren’s and Mrs. Lawson’s classrooms, immersing the primary students in Mandarin Chinese (they speak only Chinese within the classroom). Both find American students to be admirably self-motivated, and especially so at TNCS. “In our country, we help our children a lot, but, here, they are very independent. They know a lot and can do a lot of things by themselves!” said Cong Laoshi.

The Confucius Institute at Maryland (CIM) is TNCS’s primary vehicle for interaction with the Confucius Institute overall. CIM’s mission statement is: “Established with support from Hanban, also known as the Office of Chinese Language Council International (CLCI), CIM promotes the understanding of China today through the study of Chinese language, culture, ethics, and philosophy.” At TNCS, we are grateful to have our Chinese ambassadors, Cong Laoshi, Fan Laoshi, and all of our other Chinese instructors both past and present, to acquaint our students with the rich Chinese culture and help teach Mandarin Chinese.

Welcome, ladies! We hope you have a wonderful year at TNCS!

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


For more information, please contact
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 Multi-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’ multi-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 Multi-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 multi-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 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 another 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.


“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.


“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.


“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.


“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 other 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 other 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 multi-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.