Mandarin Language One-Way Immersion Program

  • Introduction

    The Mandarin Immersion Program in Union County Public Schools is a “one-way immersion” program. Students learn to speak, listen, read and write in Mandarin Chinese. Students learn math, social studies and science in Mandarin. They take art, music and PE in English. They also receive instruction in English language arts in English from Kindergarten through 5th grade.

    Late entry to the program past kindergarten is rare unless the students has an academic foundation in speaking, reading and writing Mandarin.

    Teachers are native-speakers are from multiple cities in the People’s Republic of China and are fluent in English.

    Students and teachers participate with their grade level counterparts in recess, assemblies, and other school-wide events.

    District personnel and Participate© provide continuous support to the district and school administration to ensure the program is of the highest quality and Participate provides consultation in all areas including program model alignment, instructional delivery, and teacher support and staffing. 

    The Mandarin Immersion Program in Union County Schools began in the 2102-2013 school year with one class in Kindergarten. Each year, students moved up a grade while teachers and students started a new cohort in kindergarten.  There are two elementary schools with a Mandarin Immersion instructional model: Kensington Elementary and Marvin Elementary.

    Mandarin Immersion Program 

    The Mandarin Immersion Program was designed to offer students the opportunity to develop literacy in two languages, English and Mandarin. The program offers students a structured environment in which they will develop oral fluency, listening, reading and writing skills across all elementary academic areas.

    In the Asia Society’s Chinese Language Learning in the Early Grades: A Handbook of Resources and Best Practices for Mandarin Immersion, 2012, the general goals of immersion education are defined as those that will “develop a student’s (1) proficiency in English; (2) proficiency in a second language; (3) intercultural competence; and (4) academic performance in the content area, at or above expectations.” (p.16)

    Listen to Marvin Elementary parent, Jennifer Pollino, explain why she and her husband chose the Mandarin Immersion model for their daughter in 2012. Mrs. Pollino explains the benefits she finds in immersion education, specifically Mandarin Immersion. 


    Program Model

    There are many models in dual language immersion programs. The main distinction is the starting point and exposure across content areas. While some programs begin by offering instruction with equal distribution of time in both languages, commonly known as the 50/50 model, others start with a full immersion model one-way model where 80 or up to 90 percent of time spent instructionally is in the target language. Introduction of English Language Arts may begin as early as kindergarten or can also be delayed to second grade. Most Mandarin Immersion programs move to an equally distributed language allocation model (50/50) by upper elementary. The characteristics of the program implemented will impact the results.

    The Mandarin Immersion model in Union County Public Schools incorporates elements considered best practices in the field. Receptive language will precede productive language even when speaking and writing are fostered from the initial stages. Students learn to read in Chinese “Simplified Characters” from kindergarten on. Simplified characters are the writing system of the People’s Republic of China and most of Malaysia and Singapore. Pinyin is formally introduced in second grade and through third grade to aid students in their productive skills through typing. English Language Arts are part of the K-5 experience with incremental exposure determined by the district and school.

    The curriculum follows the units of study for Union County Public Schools for language arts, math, science and social studies that are based upon the North Carolina Standard Course of Study. Teachers and students rely on resources from Participate© and other published and teacher-made Mandarin resources.

    Literacy assessments established by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction are administered as mandated from kindergarten through grade 3. Mandarin Immersion students take all state-mandated English language end-of-grade exams for reading and math in grades 3 - 5 and science in grade 5.  Participate© provides programmatic assessments to measure second language development and will administer other validated assessments in upper elementary. Fifth grade students take the ACTFL Assessment of Performance toward Proficiency in Languages (AAPPL) that assesses: Interpersonal Listening/Speaking, Presentational Writing and Interpretive Reading and Listening.   

    Expected Dual Language /Immersion Outcomes per North Carolina Department of Public Instruction 

    Chart 2: The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction has set the following exit proficiency guidelines for logographic languages:

    proficiency outcomes

    Mandarin Immersion Parent Resources

    Parents in Mandarin Immersion Programs and those intersted in such programs will find many useful articles, websites, videoclips and books at Mandarin Immersion Parent Resources (

    Why Learn Mandarin? 

    Click on the videos below to hear from these UCPS high school students, past and present, about learning Mandarin:

    Dana King USC        MRHS Mandarin 2 - Group 1      Why Learn Chinese?

    Enjoy the color brochure for Elementary Schools: Why Learn Mandarin? and Why Immersion? 
    Why Learn Mandarin
    Why Immersion