The apparent main reason for the increased interest in Chinese immersion schools in the United States is parents’ hope of guaranteeing students quality future jobs in places like Hong Kong and throughout Asia if not the United States. There are other reasons why being multilingual is beneficial but the interest in Mandarin may result from the perception that China is moving ahead of the United States in the world.
The Potomac Elementary School in Potomac, Maryland was intended for high achieving, non-Chinese speaking parents wanting a “value add” for their children’s education. The program at public Woodstock Elementary School in Portland, Oregon was aimed at encouraging better-resourced families to consider a school with low test scores and falling enrollment.
Researchers have found that speaking more than one language enhances cognitive abilities. Bilingual and multilingual speakers process information more efficiently. Some studies also show that speaking more than one language can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
National enrollment figures in the United States are only estimates, but based on 120 students per program at six classes ( K – 5) times 20 students per class at 194 listed schools comes out to 23,280 Mandarin language students. Raising the estimate to 150 students per school would result in 29,100 students in the United States. Cost can range from free to over $40,000 a year at Avenues: The World School in New York City.
Two factors positively influencing the growth of Mandarin immersion schools are the large number of immigrants from China to the United States and China’s growing place in the global economy. One negative issue is the lack of teachers due to few teacher training programs featuring Chinese immersion as a specialization.
Another difficulty can be in finding a Chinese immersion school when parents are forced to relocate for jobs or other needs. Although the list is growing rapidly, check for schools in a new city before consenting to a job transfer. Parents in some cities are starting their own charter schools.
Most of the immersion schools are elementary grades with over half of the programs starting in the 2009-2010 school year or thereafter. The charter and private schools tend to be kindergarten through 8th grade and public schools tend to be kindergarten through 5th grade. The ultimate goal is to offer the programs from kindergarten through 12th grade.
The programs can be either one-way or two-way. One-way is geared to teach English speakers Mandarin; in two-way Mandarin speaking students also learn English and English speaking students also learn Mandarin. Of Mandarin immersion schools, 83 percent are one-way and 16 percent are two-way.
The first Mandarin immersion school in the United States was San Francisco’s Chinese American International School in 1981. The second was Pacific Rim International School in Emeryville, California in 1991, followed by public school Potomac Elementary and private International School of the Peninsula in Palo Alto, California both in 1996. In 2007, fifteen were added, continually increasing each year to the total of 194 in 2015. Utah is the leader with 32 Mandarin immersion schools.
Many of the schools offer trips to China with trip costs borne by students and their families and educators’ costs paid by the schools. A typical price is about $2,500 plus airfare. Sister schools in China are often set up and visited and students become pen pals. Amway Corporation-China runs the Sunshine School in China, the One-to-One Program, and sponsors some trips.
Several websites list all the Mandarin immersion K – 12 schools located in the United States and Internationally. They typically list only the full-time immersion schools teaching in Mandarin at least half of the time, thus omitting preschools and Saturday schools. View a map of just the schools in the United States.
Be aware of the difference in Foreign Language in Elementary School (FLES) programs where content is not taught in Chinese and the language is typically taught at less than 50 percent in the early grades progressively dropping off to even less in the higher grades. These are not immersion schools.
The Mandarin Immersion Parents Council website has more information and the latest updated list of schools. Foreign language teachers seeking employment in a Chinese immersion school can make contacts at the annual American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages convention. Some also post their information about the type of job for which they are qualified on the websites listing the schools.
There are several videos on YouTube of Chinese Immersion schools in the United States. The attached video is one example of U.S. families who are taking work sabbaticals and moving to China for their children to learn Mandarin Chinese.