Mandarin Immersion at Presidio Knolls

The Benefits of Learning Mandarin in Childhood

The cognitive benefits of learning a second language in early childhood are well known. Studies clearly show it increases critical thinking skills, creativity, and flexibility in thought. Bilingual students tend to outscore their monolingual peers in verbal and math testing, and they tend to maintain focused attention better than other students. A second language gives students broader career and life opportunities as adults, and they will always have the ability to travel and connect with the world as global citizens. Bilingual children may even develop superior social skills, according to some studies.

Families at PKS choose Mandarin learning for their children for a variety of reasons. Many parents recognize the increasingly important role of China in the global economy, understanding that Mandarin skills will serve their children in adulthood no matter the career they choose. Others want to connect their children to their family’s heritage and improve their ability to communicate with older family members. Still others appreciate the beauty of Chinese language and culture and seek to instill these values in their children. No matter the reason a family chooses Mandarin immersion for their children, they will find at Presidio Knolls School a warm, supportive community with similar goals.


Recommended Reading on Immersion Education

Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA)
American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL)
Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL)
New York Times, The Superior Social Skills of Bilinguals (March 11, 2016)
New York Times, Dual-Language Programs Are on the Rise, Even for Native English Speakers (October 8, 2015)
Washington Post, Parents want elementary pupils to learn foreign languages -- but where? (October 31, 2014)
Education Week, What Research Tells Us About Immersion (September 27, 2012)
Wall Street Journal, More Area Schools Embrace Chinese-Immersion Method (August 22, 2012)

The Presidio Knolls Approach

Second-language programs are appearing rapidly in cities across America. However, few programs teach rigorous language skills utilizing the progressive learning approach that PKS embraces as part of our core mission. Likewise, not all programs instill true bilingual and biliterate skills, and not all programs truly “immerse” students in the second language. At PKS, our students develop into highly proficient bilingual and biliterate communicators with an appreciation for Chinese culture.

In the Presidio Knolls preschool, children spend 80% of learning time immersed in Mandarin. Through projects, song, dance, play, art, field trips, and inquiry-based learning, our preschool children develop strong Mandarin skills and establish a firm foundation to take them through our immersion elementary school. Children do not need Mandarin support at home to succeed in this immersion environment; parents can expect their children to become confident Mandarin speakers and listeners though our preschool program.

Mandarin immersion comprises 80% of academic time during the elementary years at Presidio Knolls School. Students experience a balanced literacy approach that includes reading, writing, speaking, and listening beginning in kindergarten. One part of this learning is a full class period each day devoted to Mandarin studies, including character recognition, reading, and writing.  

In addition, unlike traditional 50/50 Mandarin-English models, PKS students learn many other subjects through units of exploration conducted in Mandarin. This integrated learning instills a deep understanding and appreciation of Chinese language through integrated inquiry. 

For example, when students learn about the water cycle in first grade, they learn a set of Mandarin vocabulary along with it. Learning the Mandarin words for evaporation, condensation, and precipitation happens not through flashcards and rote memorization, but through the type of integrated learning that makes the new words a real part of a child’s vocabulary. In this way, language learning at PKS is very similar to the progressive model generally -- there are no silos of “math words,” “science words,” and “social studies words.” Instead, there is integrated exploration of cohesive units in Mandarin. This learning is supported and cemented during students’ devoted Mandarin class time. 

To further buttress the children’s learning and language confidence, in fifth grade, we anticipate they will travel to China for an exchange trip with our sister school. Our plans include a homestay and school attendance as well as opportunity to work on a project centered on aspects of Chinese culture.