It was a fresh morning in early spring. A beam of awakening sunshine cast into our colourful classroom. My colleague turned to me after deep thought – “Di, what about a Chinese language immersion programme in Jersey?”
I was surprised, encouraged and most of all excited about the idea of teaching Chinese at a completely new level.
An immersion style of teaching a language is like learning to swim by jumping in the water. As a keen pursuer of such a style, I observed, practiced, and later studied extensively on this approach. During my time at Beijing No.1 Nursery and prior to joining ThinkChinese, I spent 6 years participating in the Chinese-English immersion classroom. Children at No.1 Nursery are from multinational backgrounds, and for many, neither English nor Chinese is their mother tongue. Teachers spoke half a day in English and half a day in Chinese. The result was remarkable – most children could use both languages to express themselves freely after a year or so, and both languages developed at roughly the same degree of proficiency.
What is the secret behind this approach?
Interest led me to pursue a Master’s degree in TCSOL (Teaching Chinese to Speakers of Other Languages) at Nottingham University. I dedicated all my time on the degree to searching areas including motivation, teaching styles, resources and assessment methods. Never had I dreamt that one day so soon, I would be asked to create and lead an immersion programme in the Island of Jersey. Life is full of surprises!
My team and I spent several months researching and studying successful immersion classrooms in Hong Kong and Singapore; we compared benchmarks for language skills required by the UK/Jersey pre-school against these Asia countries; we then created our own framework and benchmarks and identified teaching material from China to support our own curriculum. Thus, Jersey’s first Chinese Immersion Programme was born, and that was in September 2019.
The programme focuses on five major themes including arts, science, society, health and daily communication. With a strong focus on daily communication, the other four themes rotate each week. In an ideal world, children need to be immersed in the target language for at least 1 hour each day. However, considering the limited extra-curriculum time each child can spare, we decided to offer 2 hours of tuition weekly, and 30 minutes daily home immersion using the resources that we would provide. This is close to the minimum immersion time advocated by leading practice. We broke the 2 hours tuition time down to three 30-minute sessions, with 15 minutes playtime between each. Games, songs, chants, dances and stories are frequently employed to make sure learning is easy, engaging and fun for the whole class.
Those who first started with us just over two years ago can understand almost all the class instructions, simple requests from daily conversations; they can sing songs, repeat chants, and write beautiful characters that I am truly proud of.
Looking back, one of the most frequently asked questions from parents since the start is whether their child can be too young to learn. From my literature review and personal experience – the earlier, the better. For our IP students, language is acquired through play, and there isn’t a distinction between learning and having fun.
To participate in this course or request information on all our courses, please contact ThinkChinese team at email@example.com.