Wendy Ho’s son Brendan entered the Mandarin immersion program in kindergarten and is now in the same program in the third grade at Ohlone Elementary in Palo Alto, CA. Neither Wendy or her husband Michael speak Mandarin, but are grateful their son can converse with his grandmother in her native language.
Their experience is apparently not unique
A study by researchers from Stanford’s Graduate School of Education has found 4th and 5th graders in a California Mandarin immersion program do as well learning Mandarin as high schoolers completing Advanced Placement Mandarin classes, reports an article in the Foreign Language Annals.
It’s the first study of its kind comparing exiting grade school immersion learners with high school students learning the same language.
“We were really surprised how strong the immersion language learners emerged when compared with the high school students — stronger than we had imagined,” said research project lead Amado Padilla, professor of psychological studies in education.
Padilla compared 48 students at Ohlone to 119 Mandarin students in high school.
The results of the studies did not seem to differ even when compared to native heritage speakers where Mandarin is spoken in the home.
“Interestingly, even when taking into account scores from [the] greater percentage of non-heritage speakers, the immersion students [at Ohlone] still performed at higher levels than the high school students in standard reading proficiency,” Padilla writes.
You can read the entire study in the Foreign Language Annals.