Chinese Dual Immersion Reflection

Belle R. LeDuc, Editor

The French philosopher Charlemagne once said, “To have another language is to possess a second soul.” Learning a language opens your mind to a new world, but it is easier said than done. Theories discuss how to best learn another language: but no theory can compete with the theory of immersion. 

13 years ago, Granite School District added a new type of education to their schools. Starting with the graduating class of 2021, parents would have the option- or the fortune- to enroll their children in a dual immersion program at select schools in the district. 

Dual immersion is defined by Granite School District as “… a way to learn academic content while acquiring another language at the same time”. 

In Elementary schools, such as Calvin Smith, Students would spend half their day in an “English Class” and the other half in a “Chinese Class”. In the English class, they would learn their traditional subjects and in the Chinese class, they would learn Chinese and an additional subject (typically history, science, or math). 

In Middle School, they would take advanced-level Chinese classes and in 9th grade, they would take Advanced Placement Chinese language and culture. Assuming one passed this test, they would be enrolled in the bridge program with the University of Utah where they would start working towards a minor in the language.  

According to a brief survey released to students in the Bridge Program, the most common reason for that student’s enrollment was that their parents thought learning Chinese would be useful. Back in the early days of the program, if you wanted your child to be in it chances were, they would be. Since the program has been growing, it is changing to more of a lottery system.

For a program that focuses on immersion and education, it’s very interesting that only 60% of students say they were immersed in the culture of China. 

Maelynn Torres, a junior in the program stated, “By the time I got to 8th grade, we weren’t really learning Chinese anymore. It was more like we were learning about Chinese…it feels like I’m not learning anything.” It wasn’t just her that raised this concern, a very popular critique of the program from students is that they are no longer learning practical Chinese. 

Jen Casilen, a sophomore, even stated that the program was a failure past 6th grade, agreeing with Torres on the steady decline in the quality of their education. 

That isn’t to say we failed an entire generation of students. After spending their entire educational career in the program, 85% of students say it was more useful than regular language classes and 75% of students say they consider themselves fluent. This matches the research’s conclusion: immersion is the superior way to learn a language.

Most impressively, 90% of students expect their language abilities to be useful in the future! In a world that is more connected than ever, this is to be expected. One student, who wishes to be anonymous, stated it was heartwarming to speak to visitors in their native language. 

Chinese is one of the hardest languages to learn for native English speakers, however. When asked to pick out one specific area they struggled in, the most common answer was the overall process of learning the language. 

The second most common complaint was the cultural difference between the teachers and the students. For the program, there would be special teachers flown in from China to teach. It does not take much observation to realize that this leads to a very large cultural divide; teachers expect one thing, and students expect another. 

Any students from the program could share many stories of when this divide grew into a canyon. Teachers being too strict, not understanding how school days work, issues with technology, students not respecting the teacher, and students purposely making lives harder. Each grade has its struggle, and the solution to this remains unclear. 

After 13 years, could one call this program successful? It successfully introduced more students to China and successfully taught them Chinese, but there is room to grow. Starting with the graduated class of 2021, let’s hope that each grade brings a new lesson to those who run this program. Let’s hope that programs such as this one will bring the world closer together.