Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Learner Performance in Mandarin Immersion and High School World Language Programs: A Comparison

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Learner Performance in Mandarin Immersion and High School World Language Programs: A Comparison

Article excerpt

Abstract: This study compared the Mandarin performance of elementary immersion program students and high school world language program students in the same school district. A cross-sectional design was employed to gather information on Mandarin proficiency of fourth and fifth graders and Level 4 and Level 5 (AP Chinese) high school students who took the Mandarin Standards-Based Measurement of Proficiency assessment at the end of the school year. Results indicated that immersion students slightly outperformed the comparison high school group in reading but lagged slightly behind in writing and speaking skills, for which assessment tasks required higher levels of cognitive awareness. Findings also showed that while only a few nonheritage speakers in the high school world language program continued to Level 5 (AP), most nonheritage speakers remained in the immersion program for the full duration and performed as well, or nearly as well, as theheritage speakers when exiting the program.Furtherstudiesare needed, but the findings provide a strong rationale for the role of Mandarin immersion programs in assisting students to develop higher levels of linguistic proficiency in Mandarin.

Key words: AP Chinese, Mandarin, immersion program, high school Mandarin, proficiency assessment


In the past two decades, there has been a dramatic increase in the study of Chinese1 in the United States: The number of Chinese language programs in the United States for learners of all ages, from elementary school through adulthood, tripled between 1995 and 2005 and has continued to expand during the last 10 years (Dobuzinskis, 2011; Neely, 2011; Rogers, 2012). In 2012, approximately 125schools, mostly at theelementary level, offered Mandarin immersion programs, with the largest number of such programs on the West Coast (Worthen, 2012).

However, data on learners' developing mastery of either Mandarin or English for children in such programs are limited. LindholmLeary (2011) reported students' ratings of their own Chinese oral language proficiency, but external assessment data validating students' self-reports were not provided. Chang (2011) examined the impact of Mandarin instruction on learners' academic, attitudinal, and cognitive development. While Chang stated that parents and teachers believed that students' academic work was enhanced thanks to instruction in Mandarin, no quantitative data were offered to show that instruction actually led to increased academic or cognitive development.

Another large-scale study on students' language performance in dual-immersion programs was conducted by the Second Language Teaching and Research Center at the University of Utah (Rubio, 2014). All available third to fifth graders enrolled in Chinese, Spanish, and French dual-immersion programs were tested on their language proficiency using the ACTFL Assessment of Performance Toward Proficiency in Languages (AAPPL). Preliminary results showed that more than 75% of Mandarin dual-immersion students performed at or above the stated "target" at each grade level in terms of speaking, which for third graders was Novice Mid and for fourth and fifth graders was Novice High. However, data showed that students faced greater challenges on the reading portion of the AAPPL: At the end of fourth grade, 78% of the students were rated below the stated targeted level-Novice High-in Mandarin (Rubio, 2014, n.p.). Unfortunately, data on reading performance were not provided for the third and fifth graders in this study, nor was writing proficiency measured for any of the Mandarin immersion programs.

Recently, a longitudinal study of students in a Mandarin/English dual-immersion program (Padilla, Fan, Xu, & Silva, 2013) followed students from kindergarten, when they entered the immersion program, through fifth grade, when they exited that program. Padilla et al. reported data for all second- through fifth-grade students on mandated California standards tests for English language arts, writing (fourth grade), math, and science (fifth grade): Data showed that while the nonimmersion second- and third-grade students from the same school, who were taught in English, had higher scores on the English language arts and math tests than the immersion students in the same grades, Mandarin immersion students in the upper grades scored higher on these tests than their nonimmersion peers. …

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