Mawson Primary School is one of only three bilingual schools in the ACT. It is the only public school that offers a Mandarin Immersion Program. Its bilingual program has been operating since 2005 and has grown in reputation and popularity in the last five years. Fifty percent of the Kindergarten curriculum is taught in Mandarin and fifty percent in English. Entry into this program is based on clear selection criteria.
What are the benefits of a Mandarin immersion program?
A well designed language immersion program enriches the overall education of students while enabling them to become proficient in Mandarin.
Since language learning takes time, students from full immersion programs will usually become more proficient in the target language than those in a partial immersion program, who are, in turn, far more proficient than students from a traditional language program (known as Languages Other Than English, in Australia).
Becoming bilingual has a number of social and economic advantages. When the two languages are Chinese and English, the potential advantages of being proficient in both are particularly obvious. There is also a large body of evidence that bilingual education has cognitive benefits such as greater non-verbal problem solving abilities and more flexible thinking.
- Cultural awareness can best be learned through exposure to a second language;
- Opportunities to read and enjoy the literature of other countries;
- More sources from which to gain valuable information and insights;
- Improved communication skills in listening, speaking, reading, and writing;
- Comprehension skills are more easily mastered;
- Creative thinking is enhanced in multi-language students;
- An experience that will make learning other languages even easier.
How will learning in another language affect a child’s academic and English language development?
The immersion experience can actually enhance English language development, though immersion (particularly full immersion programs) may result in a temporary lag in English reading, word knowledge, and spelling. More than 30 years of research studies consistently show that immersion students achieve as well as or better than their non-immersion peers on standardised measures of verbal and mathematical skills administered in English by Year 5 or 6, and often much earlier. This occurs no matter how different the target language is from English.
What is a language immersion program?
A language immersion program ‘immerses’ students in the target language while teaching the normal school curriculum. The teacher consistently uses the target language in the classroom. A key point in immersion classes is that the teacher is not just a teacher of language but also a teacher of content. In the case of Mawson Primary School, the Australian Curriculum content.
Immersion programs can take a number of forms. In full or total immersion all subjects are taught in the target language for the first year or two of school and then the proportion gradually decreases to about 50% by Year 5 or 6. In partial immersion, less than 100% , but usually a minimum of 50% is taught in the target language. Mawson Primary School is working towards being a true bilingual program with a 50/50 approach.
Why are there so few immersion programs?
Immersion classes are resource intensive and require ongoing commitment from parents, children and teachers – not just the bilingual teachers but the English-speaking teachers with whom they collaborate. Joint planning and consultation is needed to ensure that all aspects of the curriculum are covered and that children have the chance to talk about new concepts gained in the target language in English, and vice versa.
Finding and retaining suitable bilingual teachers is a challenge. The teacher must be able to teach content-area knowledge in the target language as well as being a fluent speaker. Trying to use only the target language in the classroom can be exhausting for a teacher. A lot of effort is also needed to develop suitable teaching materials that balance the cognitive levels of students with their abilities in the target language.
Nevertheless, successful models of immersion programs have been running in Australia for many years, for example the Japanese immersion program at Huntingdale Primary School, the Mandarin program at Abbotsford Primary School and the French program at Telopea Park School.