Introducing Young Students to Mandarin Chinese

Students in kindergarten, first-grade, and second-grade at Frederick Douglas Elementary School are participating in the Early Learning Mandarin Chinese Language Adventure.

Yanping Ji, Early Learning Mandarin Chinese Language Adventure teacher, with students at Frederick Douglas Elementary School.
Yanping Ji, Early Learning Mandarin Chinese Language Adventure teacher, with students at Frederick Douglas Elementary School.

Learning a new language can be a challenging and time-consuming endeavor, which is why it is generally agreed-upon that the best time to pick up a foreign language is during childhood, when the brain is incredibly receptive to all things new and capable of absorbing large amounts of information. What’s more, kids don’t have to deal with the pressures of adult life and can afford to take things slowly.

Born out of a desire to help the children of Cincinnati broaden their horizons, the Early Learning Mandarin Chinese Language Adventure, an after-school program at Frederick Douglas Elementary School, aims to teach kindergarten, first-grade and second-grade children the basics of China’s most popular language. During its 19-week run, the children who attend this after-school program learn how things such as numbers, colors and animals are called in Mandarin Chinese, with an online bilingual subscription that allows them to expand on the knowledge they gain in class. The program is organized by the Live a Language Foundation with financial support from Activities Beyond the Classroom, the Cincinnati-based steward of many of the extracurricular activities available for students attending Cincinnati Public Schools. Currently, it is available exclusively at Douglas but will soon be expanding to the Silverton Paideia Academy, as well.

So far, the program has been a remarkable success. Gini Browsh, the C Speak/FLAP Class Project Facilitator, has commented that “The kids are picking up a lot of the vocabulary and expressions,” adding that the relaxed atmosphere of the after-school class has helped dispel hesitancy and shyness from the children’s demeanor. What’s more, in addition to kindergarten, first-grade and second-grade attendees, the class also welcomes their brothers and sisters, who sometimes participate after finishing their own classes, thus resulting in a mixed group that usually averages around nine kids each week.

The Mandarin Chinese Language Adventure is taught by Yanping Ji, a Mandarin Chinese teacher at Walnut Hills High School. As a native speaker, Ms. Ji speaks to the children primarily in Mandarin Chinese, while presenting the curriculum based on the Little Sponges program. Additionally, students utilize the Little Sponges software both in the classroom and at home to strengthen the connection between English and Chinese. The bilingual program heavily employs characters, animation and music, elements that tend to make the absorption of new information more palatable to young children.

Lastly, in order to foster cultural immersion, Ms. Ji will sometimes bring along Chinese snacks for the children to try out, or teach them about Chinese culture and other fascinating aspects of this unique civilization. For example, students learned about the Chinese New Year by learning about the Chinese zodiac and the Year of the Dog.

When all is said and done, it’s programs like these that can open up children’s minds and show them that there’s a whole world out there, just waiting to be explored. To that end, the Mandarin Chinese program funded by ABC and organized by the Live A Language Foundation is a small but significant step towards helping Cincinnati kids become international citizens, all done in a fun and engaging manner that perfectly complements their regular curriculum.