RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – It may be hard, but try to imagine that your 5 or 6-year-old English-speaking child is also fluent in Mandarin Chinese. That’s exactly what’s happening at one Wake County school where most of their day is spent speaking Mandarin.
CBS North Carolina’s Russ Bowen visited the school – Stough Elementary – and said that when he first arrived he thought he was in a foreign language class. It was actually a math class that’s taught in Mandarin.
Starting in kindergarten, students at Stough Elementary in Raleigh are immersed into a language that more than one billion people on the planet now speak.
“We have students that are gaining a foreign language to them at a high clip. Not only any foreign language but, one of the most marketable languages in the world,” said Principal Chris Cox. “We have students at 6, 7 years old speaking fluent Mandarin.”
Worldwide, more people converse in Mandarin than any other language. As students grow up and enter the job market there’s no question this will give them an edge. But, it’s not just about that.
“I think for young learners, it’s the brain training. Once they start learning a very different language than English, it’s the brain development. So it doesn’t matter they are using this language in the future or not. It’s their brain training,” teacher Haining Liu said.
“Over time, data and research will show you that these students will catch up to and even surpass some of their traditional learning peers,” said Cox.
Teachers and administrators say the level of fluency shouldn’t be a surprise. There’s a reason it’s easier for younger students to learn another language. But, whether they start in kindergarten or third grade can make a difference in their ability to quickly catch on.
“When they were 5 years old they do much better than third graders. Like, at 5 years old they don’t ask ‘How do you say this sentence in English?’ They don’t ask at all. They hear it, they speak it,” Liu explained.
Several other magnet schools within the Wake County school system also have immersion programs that include Spanish.