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Edmonton’s Best Kept Secret – Chinese Bilingual Program

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  • Edmonton’s Best Kept Secret – Chinese Bilingual Program

    Edmonton’s Best Kept Secret – Chinese (Mandarin) Bilingual Program

    By Wei Wong

    Who would have believed 25 years ago that learning Chinese would take root and flourish in a Canadian prairie city, when cities like Toronto and Vancouver are the choice destinations for Chinese immigrants and have larger Chinese speaking populations.

    From relative obscurity in the early 1980s to a headline proclaiming the “Best Chinese Language Program” in 2006, Edmonton’s Chinese Bilingual Program has become a welcome and positive language learning experience for many families.

    What’s interesting is that our made-in-Edmonton Chinese Bilingual Program has attracted the attention of university researchers, educators, school boards and ministries across the globe. Other municipalities have attempted, but have not succeeded in duplicating this unique and comprehensive program.

    What is so unique about Edmonton’s Chinese Bilingual program?

    First, it is open to absolutely everyone – it has to be, it’s offered by Edmonton Public Schools, funded by tax dollars. Kindergarten and Grade 1 are the preferred entry levels.

    Accessible from anywhere in Edmonton, there are currently 12 sites: 5 elementary schools – Caernarvon, Dovercourt, Kildare, Meadowlark, Meyonohk; 4 junior high schools – Londonderry, Ottewell, Parkview, Rosslyn; and 3 high schools – McNally, ME LaZerte, and Ross Sheppard. Almost 2000 active learners today.

    English and Chinese (Mandarin) are the languages of instruction during the regular school day in elementary school. Parents and students are pleased that there is no need to attend after-school or weekends classes.

    Kindergarten classes are offered as half-days, alternating with a Chinese teacher for Mandarin, and a non-Chinese teacher for English. From Grade 1 to Grade 6, wherever possible, a Chinese teacher teaches subjects in Mandarin, and a non-Chinese teacher teaches subjects in English. This has proven to be the most effective.

    The Alberta curriculum is covered in two languages. Art, music, physical education are subjects easily taught in Chinese and lend themselves to teaching Chinese culture and sharing of customs and festivities in schools. When culture is shared with the greater community, it instills pride and self-esteem in students. At every one of our bilingual schools, students are more than willing to participate in civic events and perform for the broader community.

    In junior high and high school, an extension of the Chinese Bilingual Program is offered – basically an intermediate and advanced (I.B.) level.

    Where families might have otherwise been disinterested in Chinese culture, the Chinese Bilingual Program has been responsible for bringing generations together.

    Examinations to test proficiency against international standards have recently started at the elementary and junior high levels and the preliminary results are gratifying. Several Canadian-born students have accomplished their personal goals to become teachers of Mandarin. We are heartened and proud that a made-in-Edmonton program can and will supply future teachers to add to the strong foundation that has already been established here.

    Someone asked at the recent Chinese Language Education Forum “What’s going to benefit you more in life – what you learn in trigonometry or a second language?”

    Give your children a gift that will last a lifetime: give them the gift of language.

    For more details,

    Wei Wong
    Edmonton Chinese Bilingual Education Association
    Awards & Scholarship Committee