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.)

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.


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 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.


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.


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 :)!

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.