Schools: Stop undervaluing Mandarin Chinese bilingualism

Schools: Stop undervaluing Mandarin Chinese bilingualism

It’s recruiting season. Schools are filling their rosters for the fall semester and padding their summer programs with as many students as possible.

For our soon-to-be three-year-old, it’s time to make School rounds and find him the perfect preschool. We’ve been scheduling and visiting schools all Spring.

As I have experience in the education industry, and I’ve even done my homework on recent trends in education, I go prepared. I tell the administrators about how our primary concern is the development of social skills and other basics like alphabets, numbers, counting and I suppose even reading and writing.

To be honest, kids have it tough these days and I’d be happy if our son could just play with kids, make friends, play some soccer, and recognize the rest of the numbers and letters.

But hold up, I don’t want him to just recognize numbers in English. I want him to recognize numbers in English AND Mandarin Chinese. This is not an unreasonable expectation given he’s already bilingual and plenty of kindergartens, elementary schools, and private high schools have adopted bilingual Mandarin programs in the US.

“…[One] of the hottest trends in public schooling is what’s often called dual-language or two-way immersion programs” – <a href=”” target=”_blank”>NPR, “6 Potential Brain Benefits of Bilingual Education”</a>

So why is it whenever I ask, “I noticed you don’t have any Asian teachers, so you have anyone who speaks Mandarin? My son is bilingual.” The response I get is often a reassuring, “Oh, your son will pick up English very quickly once he starts with us. We’ve had kids who only speak their native language learn English in just a week.”

Do you see what they did there?

Not only did they assume bilingualism means English incompetence, but they assumed that I’m not a native English speaker (because I look Asian?) Therefore my son is not a native English speaker. Why? Because he’s bilingual in Mandarin Chinese.

I wonder if Spanish bilinguals have this problem.

“Through his studies, Cornish said students from communities where Spanish is valued possess a positive self-image of themselves as Spanish speakers and the Spanish communities they come from. Conversely, the opposite is true in school districts ignoring bilingual education and Hispanic heritage.” – Huffington Post, <a href=”″
target=”_blank”>Bilingual Education Holds Cognitive, Social And Health Benefits”</a>

A misunderstanding
Just to clarify, no, I’m not worried about my son’s language abilities. He already speaks more complex languages than you do–and he’s not even three yet.

I’m concerned that your school is monolingual and thereby not challenging the children enough. I’m concerned that my bilingual child can only learn one language at your school, and will need to learn the rest of the languages we speak at home in other schools.

I’m concerned of the effects of my child being in school all day without a single teacher who looks like him (or his peers!)

I’m concerned that you will treat him differently because he is not monolingual, because he’ll pepper his speech with Mandarin, occasionally use the wrong language, or only know the words in one language but not the other. I’m concerned you’ll judge him as “less than” because of his bilingualism.

Just like you’re treating me differently at the school tour–and I was born here.

R e s p o n d