Can Mandarin Save a Failing Georgia School?

This says something.In a recent segment of the CBS Evening News, reporter, Mark Strassman shared how a failing Macon, Georgia school district is mandating Mandarin language lessons in order to stave off a staggering fifty percent failure to graduate rate. Within three years, all 25,000 students in Bibb County will be learning Mandarin. In fact, third graders at Sonny Carter Elementary School have already begun.

Students are taught Mandarin three days a week by one of 25 native Chinese teachers who came to Macon to help overhaul student performance. The new superintendent of Bibb County Schools, Romain Dallemand, refers to Mandarin as “one piece of the Macon Miracle.” He is so bullish on the miracle, the district is investing $2.76 million to bring forth Mandarin and other sweeping change to the classroom.

So, what do you think? Can Mandarin help save the failing school district?

Before you answer, let’s take a look at some surprising research. Some of the benefits of teaching children foreign languages include:

Higher test scores: Research shows students who have studied a foreign language score on average 140 points higher on standardized tests when it comes to Critical Reading and Writing. For Math, students score on average 150 points higher.

Helps the brain: Studies show that learning language helps flex brain muscles and helps build them up as well. Like any other muscle, the brain requires exercise in order to stay healthy. In looking at the brains of bilingual children, researchers found more grey matter. And in case you’re wondering, more grey matter is a plus, as it is responsible for processing information, including memory, speech, and sensory perception.

Increases a child’s view of the world: Learning languages helps build new frames of reference and provides new perspective. Increasing a child’s view of the world helps with creativity and problem solving. This is particularly important for children as they are groomed to compete in a fast-paced, 21st century, multicultural environment.

While some parents in Macon question whether their children should be learning Spanish rather than Mandarin, and two families have pulled their children out of Mandarin class, the way I look at it, Mandarin has much more upside than downside.

In fact, my children and I are studying Mandarin as a family right now. Our instructor teaches Mandarin experientially. We’re “living” Mandarin with each lesson. We learn about Chinese culture and history as we go along. Our instructor has made Mandarin class so enjoyable my kids don’t even know they’re learning (shh, don’t tell them). Yet, my 6-year old and my 9-year old know a whole host of new vocabulary words, have gained confidence in speaking and writing, can recite grammatical lessons, have increased their desire to learn new things, and have shown increased creative flexibility and fluency.

I find young minds amazing. The plasticity of our brains never ceases to surprise me. Learning a new language has opened up a new world for my family. I just wish our school district taught Mandarin. Maybe some day. Until then, we’ll be taking family lessons!

Article first published as Can Mandarin Save a Failing Georgia School? on Technorati.


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