News for Startalk at TNCS!


TNCS’s wonderful Chinese staff work hard to make learning Mandarin Chinese fun!

Last month, The New Century School hosted its closing event for the Summer 2014 Startalk Program. That program, “Let the World Be Filled with Love,” ran for 3 weeks in the summer, but to keep participants engaged throughout the year, receptions were held at regular intervals, and a periodic newsletter kept them abreast of Startalk happenings.

The final reception was extremely celebratory in mood, for several very good reasons. First, Startalkers enjoy getting together and chatting in Chinese! Second, the Chinese New Year was fast approaching, and that’s always exciting. Third, this reception took the form of a potluck, and the beautiful variety of dishes was delicious. Fourth, the entire group was eagerly anticipating the results of TNCS’s 2015 grant submission, which they were days away from learning. But we’ll spare you the suspense—will TNCS be hosting Startalk this summer?


The final Startalk reception was held in TNCS’s multipurpose room, and everyone contributed a lovely dish!

Yes! It is true! Shì zhēn de (是真的)! TNCS was once again awarded funding for a Startalk Summer Program! This year’s 3-week session will run from July 6–24, 2015.

But back to the reception, it started off with a Chinese Immersion refresher class that focused on celebrating and welcoming the Year of the Sheep. (or Goat. Or Ram. You decide.) As students watched in complete absorption, the Chinese teachers gave a mini-lesson to get them back in the swing. Parents lining the side wall got to see first-hand how Startalk works and even picked up some Mandarin Chinese themselves! Startalk operates on the principle of doing, that is, active participation—in this case, doing is talking. Start talking.


Startalk 2014 participants avidly follow Xie Laoshi and Lu Laoshi as they deliver a mini-lesson on the Chinese New Year fast approaching.

Watching a lesson unfold makes it easy to see why the program is so effective. Teachers pronounce a word or phrase while demonstrating what it represents, repeat their verbalizations continuously, gesture, point, and keep talking the while. Understanding dawns quickly, and the students are expected to put it to immediate use.



Another Startalk tenet is that content should be meaningful to the students. Why make them learn something they aren’t interested in applying or are unlikely to have a context in which to apply it? Thus, the day’s lesson would involve something that people everywhere would be discussing: Chinese New Year, a celebration full of color, music, firework displays, and plain fun for kids.

The Chinese dragon even made an appearance, a very good omen for TNCS’s 2015 Startalk Program, “China in Baltimore”!

Very special thank-yous go to Startalk Director and Head of Mandarin Chinese Language at TNCS Xie Laoshi, her devoted assistant Lu Laoshi, and to the other caring and committed Startalk staff members. They worked tirelessly to make Startalk 2014 a monumental success and to land the 2015 grant ensuring that TNCS remains at the forefront of Mandarin Chinese instruction in Baltimore. We look forward to an amazing Startalk 2015!

Would you like to learn more about Startalk at TNCS? Here is a link to download the most recent continuing education newsletter in pdf format: Start Talking v1n3. It provides recommendations for practice apps and websites to supplement the Chinese stories and idioms that are also included.
Earlier newsletters can be downloaded below:

TNCS’s Winter Performance Amazes and Delights!


The 2014 Winter Performance was stunning!

The New Century School‘s 2014 Winter Performance was unanimously voted Best Ever by a rapt, proud, overflowing audience! The motifs of peace and love provided a unifying theme, appropriate for the season and for TNCS’s spirit. The success of this year’s performance is due to a combination of factors, including the continued tremendous dedication of TNCS staff, the heartbreakingly adorable performers, and the simply amazing TNCS families.

A few notable stand-outs deserve particular attention. First, of course, are Mr. Warren and Ms. Miller whose musical and artistic talents took the event to new heights of production. Then there are the parent volunteers, who carried out all sorts of helpful tasks from filming the performance to setting up the best audio we’ve ever had the pleasure to enjoy! There were also some surprise solo performers who charmed the audience with their consummate showmanship. (Though they shall remain nameless here, expect to see their names in lights in the coming years.)

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Other differences this year also made for big pay-offs. Performers stood on bleachers so all were easily seen and heard from the audience. The event was limited to the primary and elementary classes, and although the pre-primary toddlers were certainly missed, the event was more manageable in terms of time and efficiency with just the older students. A new time was also road-tested, but what timing works best for most families is yet to be determined.

And then there were Mr. Warren’s touches of brilliance—he had the elementary students perform “Ode to Joy” on recorders as well as led the entire auditorium through an interactive rendition of “Jingle Bells”  with audience participation. He chose to reprise “Winter Song,” and the dewy-eyed audience was not sorry to hear that lovely song again. Finally, he ended the show with a happy surprise by debuting his original composition, “The New Century School Song,” which primary and elementary students joined together to sing.

The 2014 Winter Performance was the ideal way to close out the first semester of TNCS’s remarkable fifth year. Well done, TNCS community, and Happy Holidays!


Startalk Is a Huge Success at TNCS!

On Day 4 of Startalk camp, campers wore their "Let the World Be Filled with Love" tee-shirts in honor of the site evaluation by Startalk administrators!

On Day 4 of Startalk camp, campers wore their “Let the World Be Filled with Love” tee-shirts in honor of the site evaluation by Startalk administrators!

Being awarded a Startalk grant was just The New Century School‘s first step in quite an arduous process to come in order to “Let the World Be Filled with Love” (TNCS’s very own Startalk camp theme). Months of planning came next, followed by the proof in the pudding—implementation. Well, by only Day 5 of Startalk summer camp at TNCS, it’s exceeding all expectations, and all of the hard work is paying off! On the heels of Day 4’s hugely successful on-site evaluation by Startalk administrators, TNCS got the green light to keep up the great work (“We passed with flying colors!” said Director of Admissions Robin Munro happily). All week, our three groups (Novice Low, grades 1–2; Novice High/Intermediate Low, grades 2–3; and Novice Low, grades 3–4) have been busy, busy, busy—listening and learning, cooking and eating, singing and drumming, and engaging in Chinese cultural activities like calligraphy and learning the abacus (see slideshow below). Their progress in those 5 short days is nothing short of astounding; the Startalk methods really work!

Startalk’s mission is to teach Americans modern world languages and currently offers programs in 10 of them, including Mandarin Chinese (yay!), Arabic, Dari, Hindi, Persian, Portuguese, Russian, Swahili, Turkish, and Urdu. After years of research into how people most effectively achieve fluency in another language, Startalk developed six evidence-based best practices that can be replicated in participating programs, with a dual focus on both the learner and the instructor. They include:

  • Implementing a Standards-Based and Thematically Organized Curriculum
  • Facilitating a Learner-Centered Classroom
  • Using the Target Language and Providing Comprehensible Input for Instruction
  • Integrating Culture, Content, and Language in a World Language Classroom
  • Adapting and Using Age-Appropriate Authentic Materials
  • Conducting Performance-Based Assessment

Students are truly immersed in the language, but the point is that, through the proven six-pronged approach, they develop the confidence to communicate—to start talking.

Startalk also employs the 5 Cs of language acquisition developed by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) that TNCS has been using all along in its multilingual language program curriculum. Communication, Culture, Connections, Comparisons, and Communities inform every language-learning activity the day holds. The most effective language program designs activities in which these five concepts intersect, which is exactly what “Let the World Be Filled with Love” achieves, as these photos eloquently demonstrate.

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By Day 5, campers were well acquainted with their daily routines and expectations. They are growing more comfortable communicating in Mandarin by the minute. Novice-level campers went out on their first field trip to visit a Chinese immigrant family in their home. They will lunch together, do a craft, and talk.

Being able to converse about fruit is one of the end-goals of camp.

Being able to converse about fruit is one of the end-goals of camp.

Intermediate-level campers enjoyed a more typical Startalk camp day, with group activity followed by a language/writing lesson, cultural enrichment, and finally language review. The video below shows them during their morning group activity. The 3-week program will culminate with a performance, which will take the form of a Farmer’s Market, in which Startalkers will adopt roles as buyers and sellers and enact transactions, from identifying fruit to describing it to bargaining for it. Today’s morning group activity was practice for the Farmer’s Market, and, as you’ll see, the kids are well on their way. Note how Liang Laoshi speaks very clearly, repeats her phrases several times, and accompanies her instructions with explanatory gestures but never utters a syllable in English!

1. I can recognize different fruit words. 2. I can ask and answer about favorite foods. 3. I can understand the story Kong Rang Li.

1. I can recognize different fruit words. 2. I can ask and answer about favorite foods. 3. I can understand the story Kong Rang Li.

Part of why this method works so well is that it hinges on so-called “can-do statements.” Students know right from the start what they are expected to learn and then set up for success to get there. For the end-of-program performance, for example, Intermediate learners will say, “I can recognize different fruit words.”

Another ultimate goal, expressed as a can-do statement, is “I can understand the story of ‘Kong Rang Li’.” This traditional Chinese fable is about a little boy with five older brothers and one younger brother. When their father offers them pears, Kong Rang opts for the smallest one. When questioned by his father about his generosity, the boy replies that his older brothers are bigger and should therefore have the bigger pears, whereas he is older than his younger brother and should let him also have a bigger pear. The story demonstrates the core Chinese value of selflessness and also shows how to spread some love. It’s the linchpin of TNCS’s Startalk camp, bringing everything together—the ability to discuss fruit, the love theme, and interacting with the story via several different media including reading, writing, and pantomiming.

With only one week of Startalk under their belts so far, campers are already wonderfully enriched and enjoying every minute of their immersion in Chinese culture and language. By the end of Week 3, expect to witness some pretty incredible transformation!