On Saturday, October 3 you can attend Jordan International Montessori’s Open House from 9:30 – 11:30 a.m. to learn about Austin’s newest Chinese-immersion Montessori school while the kids enjoy music, movement and other activities. Jordan International Montessori is an authentic Montessori program that also offers instruction in Mandarin Chinese, and is now enrolling students from 1 1/2 to 6 years of age.
Below, Candice Lin, Chinese teacher at Jordan International Montessori (M. Ed, University of San Diego, Montessori curriculum and instruction) answers some common questions parents have about bilingual education.
Q: Why should young children begin to learn a foreign language? Don’t most schools wait until middle or high school to introduce foreign languages?
A: Children can start to learn a foreign language at any age, but there are many advantages to starting early. Young children are better able to mimic the pronunciation of the second language and thus pick up a more native-like accent. There are many additional benefits to learning a foreign language as well. According to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, children who study a foreign language tend to be more creative, and have better critical thinking and problem solving skills.
Q: How does a bilingual Montessori school work exactly?
A: Each dual-language classroom has two teachers: an English speaking and a Mandarin Chinese speaking teacher. The bilingual environment will help children to learn academic content while they are absorbing the language from their surroundings. Children will develop a curiosity and passion for language and culture. We focus on spoken language first which will give children the opportunity to communicate and express their own ideas freely. Later on, Chinese characters are introduced when students are ready.
Q: What share of the instruction in your Chinese immersion program will be in Chinese?
A: In our full immersion IC classrooms (ages one and a half to three), our teachers are native Mandarin Chinese speakers and will only speak Mandarin with the children during the school day. Since many students come to us with only limited Mandarin skills, we want to ensure that Mandarin becomes the classroom language as quickly as possible.
In our Casa classroom, we will have an English-speaking teacher and a Mandarin Chinese teacher. The English teacher will work with the students on English language reading and writing skills from the time they join the Casa classroom (ages three to six). This is important so that children can also learn English reading and writing during their “sensitive period” for these skills, which starts as young as age three. The English teacher will also work with the children on math, which the children not only learn the concepts but also mathematical language which will prepares them for first grade.
Q: No one in our family speaks Chinese, can my child still join the program?
A: Absolutely! We welcome children from all backgrounds. In fact an immersion program is ideal for children from English-speaking homes to learn a second language like Chinese.
The trademark one-on-one instruction of the Montessori system is uniquely suited to foreign-language immersion. In the beginning, teachers speak slowly, use gestures, and pantomime actions to help children follow along. In Montessori, children learn at their own pace so no child will feel left behind nor will any child feel held back. We also have newsletters, portfolios and progress reports to keep parents updated, even if they don’t speak Chinese themselves.
Q: Even if it’s possible for my child to pick up Chinese at school, I still want to reinforce what she learns at home. Will that be possible if I don’t speak Chinese?
A: Don’t panic. A school designed to assist parents who don’t speak Chinese at home like Jordan International Montessori knows how to help parents help their children. It is still preschool, so there is no homework as such, but parents can stay informed by reading the school newsletter and their child’s portfolio. For example, if a parent sees in their child’s portfolio that she has been learning words for different articles of clothing, then they can ask her if she knows the Chinese words for her clothes while she is getting dressed in the morning.
Q: How much Chinese can I expect my child to pick up—spoken Chinese and written Chinese?
A: As we’ll introduce oral language as soon as the child starts at our school, children usually learn to understand directions in Chinese, speak in Chinese, sing Chinese songs, and play Chinese finger games within a couple months. Then they will learn to write and recognize Chinese characters in their second year. Usually, they start to read quite well by the time they graduate from the third year of Montessori Chinese immersion primary (at age six, which is the equivalent of the traditional kindergarten year).
–> Learn More: You can learn more about Jordan International Montessori by visiting their website and Facebook page. You can also tour the school, meet the staff and get answers to any questions at the open house sessions on October 3 at 9:30 a.m. or at an additional weekday session on Tuesday, October 6 from 6 – 7 p.m.