What to expect when you’re expecting. 3 resources for Mandarin immersion

Sorry about the play on words in the title; I just couldn’t help it.  Although expecting a new baby is nothing like waiting for your child to show proficiency in his/her second language, the latter still does produce plenty of anxiety.  Obviously every child is different and children’s language acquisition in immersion programs will vary.  However, immersion programs have been around long enough for researchers, parents, teachers, and program administrators to gather data that have been the basis for some helpful guidelines (see below).  Also, as I have written about in previous posts, there are concrete things that parents can do at home to promote and advance their children’s second language acquisition.  I have provided some Mandarin character flashcards in resource #2 below and as I’ve written about in other posts, parents can have a great impact on their children’s second language acquisition by continuing to develop their children’s literacy skills in their first language (see the blog post on “Seven tips for parents who do not speak the language of immersion” for a discussion on how first language literacy skills transfer to second language acquisition, no matter the second language).  Below I provide three helpful resources for parents whose children are in Mandarin immersion programs.

1. Grade level proficiency guidelines: The following information comes from the Asia Society and is written by well known language researchers Myriam Met and Chris Livaccari (if I’m not mistaken, Myriam Met has been quite helpful in the planning of the Mandarin & Spanish immersion programs in the Catalina Foothills School District).  Click on the link for a full discussion on grade level proficiency guidelines and other information about Mandarin immersion.


2. Grade Level Mandarin Immersion Character628x471 Lists (flashcards used in the San Francisco Unified School District Mandarin Immersion Programs)


There are also other great postings on this website that give more information regarding what to expect with Mandarin immersion.

3. Find a balance between keeping expectations high, but also realizing the challenges of learning a language with a different orthography or script from English (Mandarin, Arabic, etc.)

The Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center in Monterey, CA categorizes languages by complexity level and length of instruction that is required for a learner to achieve intermediate level proficiency.  Mandarin, due to its differences compared to English is given a category IV:   “Category IV languages are exceptionally difficult for native English speakers and require 64 weeks of instruction for learners to reach the intermediate level” (Padilla et al., 2013, p. 662).

For another research article, specifically on Mandarin immersion proficiency, achievement, & attitudes, see also



Lindholm-Leary, K. (2011). Student outcomes in Chinese two-way immersion programs: Language proficiency, academic achievement, and student attitudes. Immersion education: Practices, policies, possibilities, 81-103.

Padilla, A. M., Fan, L., Xu, X., & Silva, D. (2013). A Mandarin/English two‐way immersion program: Language proficiency and academic achievement. Foreign Language Annals, 46(4), 661-679.


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