MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — In many ways, a kindergarten class at Benjamin Mays Magnet Elementary in St. Paul is like any other; they sing songs, learn numbers, and tell stories. The big difference is that the students are learning everything in Mandarin Chinese.

“It’s very, very hard for them, but they’re doing very, very well,” said teacher Hong Juan Zhou.

WCCO-TV spent a morning in class during the first week of school. Some students seemed to be catching on quickly, while others looked frustrated and worn out. They sat at their desks with their head between their hands, or lying on the desk, in what appeared to be an intense and challenging school day.

Benjamin Mays’ new program is one of 63 immersion programs in Minnesota.

In the last 10 years, the number of language immersion programs has close to doubled in the U.S, from 524 to 924.

Dr. Tara Fortune is with the Center for Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA), and works with immersion programs across the country.

“For this generation to be successful, it’s not going to be enough for them to succeed on a national level. We have to be able to succeed on an international level,” said Fortune.

She believes the demands on young students will continue to grow, especially with the rise of China’s economy.

“Educated Americans will need to know two or more languages in order to be successful in this new global economy,” said Fortune.

Principal Tyrone Brookins said that’s part of why he enrolled his son Brooke in the class.

“I want to give him the opportunity to have a heads up, or a leg up on his peers,” he said.

The addition of this new program has opened his eyes to how fast the world is changing.

“The very first day of school I had at least three parents in here who were speaking the Mandarin Chinese language. I was like ‘wow,’ as a parent I think I’ve got to get caught up,” said Brookins.

For the first two years, the students will learn everything in Chinese and then they’ll begin to incorporate English.

The district was able to add the program thanks to a federal grant. More federal dollars are being freed up for those types of programs and is part of the reason why the immersion programs are growing nationally.

Fortune said the hope is that the students are able to advance in learning the language as they go to junior high and then high school. She said research shows immersion students do as well, if not better on average than other students in standardized testing when it comes to reading and math.

Fortune said the programs also help to build self esteem and language proficiency.

Meanwhile, the program coordinator said if the students stick with it, they’ll be bi-lingual by third grade.

Comments (54)
  1. Ellen says:

    So when China comes to take over our country, the younger generation
    will be able to communicate with them? More money seems to be spent
    on teacher American kids foreign languages than teaching immigrants
    to speak OUR language! We already have Mexicans, Somalians and
    others chattering away their jibberish in our stores. Now the younger
    generation will be speaking Chinese? When in our country, speak
    English please!

    1. Diana Orellana says:

      Miss or Mrs Ellen, I am agree with we the immigrants need to speak English to be able to be successful in this great country. I get here 12 yrs ago with no knowledge of American language neither knew anything about your culture, did not matter I even had a 4 yrs degree in economics Science, that seems worthless if I was not able to communicate. So I went to college here as well and the government did not paid for my school neither I take a loan. I work HARD. A word that so many forget and expect the government comes and fix their problems. WE ALL need to work HARD to make this country SUCCESSFUL again. Not with negativism or whining, “oh poor me”, “immigrants are taken my job away”. That is not true. I work a 12 hrs shift if I need to and sadly I see my (some, not all) American co-workers complain of TOO MUCH WORK and punch in at 7:30 AM sharp and punch at 4 PM sharp, even if there is so much work to do no one is willing to give an extra hr of their time but complain of no having enough money to pay bills and to little money in their “stamp foods”. So yes I am a proud Immigrant and is also true that this generation of new Americans needs to learn more then two languages and other cultures as well. At the other hand this immigrants chattering their “gibberish” in those stores are the ones who are willing to work HARD with no expectations of welfare or government paid… as immigrants we paid as much taxes as you do and perhaps more then you. Precisely to avoid ignorance like yours we need to teach our children to love and respect and LEARN from others. Have a great day miss/Mrs Ellen.

    2. My, My says:

      how quaintly ignorant.

      1. bob says:

        Ignorance is bliss!

    3. eco says:

      Guess what Ellen? those jibberish speaking people are taking over your grandson’s future job opportunity away… because China is taking over all American jobs, not because Mexicans and Somalians came to live to “America”, but because White Americans that made their fortunes in America took off to China and shipped out all those jobs with them.
      If you were to read more history you would learn AND understand that countries make mistakes but they also learn from it. China is learning its lesson, but USA ( what you actually called AMERICA ) is about to start that long process.

    4. Elsie says:

      Wow! How staggeringly ignorant! “Chattering away their jibberish”: what a crass and idiotic statement. You surely do have a special talent for displaying your own lack of intelligence. Bilingualism and multilingualism are huge advantages to give our children. Working in an international school I daily teach children who speak 3,4, 5 or more languages. Guess who is more employable – people like you who think the world (economy and all) stops and starts in the USA or those who understand and embrace globalism. Ignorant people like you who are incapable of understanding how the world has changed over the last 20 years are the reason why the US has lost its global lead.

  2. Tammy Belka says:

    Ellen, your thinking is backwards. Any child/adult/person who can speak two or three different languages has a leg-up financially in the future economy. It’s for their own good. And who says these kids will live in Minnesota their whole lives? Why not open the whole world for them?

  3. Diana Orellana says:

    Well my son already understand Spanish, eventually He will learn to speak it as well, but is is true that if I want my son to be successful and competitive in now days global economy speak 2 o more language will give him a little bit of advantage to his pears… and i snot just language but culture as well, this is why we chose to enroll him in this Chinese Immersion Program where I think teachers and all school staff is doing a tremendous job. I love to see my kindergarten son challenge with Math already, sound funny but I think is great!! Kudos to Bejamin E. Mays Mandarin Immersion…

  4. Tony James says:

    if this class is mandatory id pull my son out of school.they shouldnt focus on foreign languages at such a young age.

    1. Elsie says:

      actually this is exactly the age they should focus on it because children this age learn and assimilate language more easily. Also, if taught by a native speaker, they will acquire a native accent, rather than speaking with an American accent. The only issue will be if they are able to keep the language usage up after they graduate out of the kindergarten program. Language attrition takes only 6 weeks, so if the children do not continue to use the language they will lose it very quickly.

  5. kdp says:

    Good idea, wrong country, Mandarin Chinese kindergarten should be taught in China. County, state and federal forms should be in English. You’re in America, get used to it.

    1. Elsie says:

      so basically your argument is that American students in American schools should not learn foreign languages. So you won’t be complaining when all the multi-lingual people from other nations are recruited to fill jobs with American businesses because, under your great idea, American youth have not been given the education they need to be employable.

    2. jackactionhero says:

      What a stupid comment, kdp. How did you even find your way here with a brain as severely lacking in intelligence as yours?

  6. kdp says:

    If we don’t have an “offical” national” language then it’s damn time we did.

    1. We do says:

      it’s Canadian. Get used to it.

  7. blah says:

    totally agree with Ellen, it is nice to know another language but when its becoming mandatory that crosses the line. We are in America not china, we should be teaching the immigrants or they should learn english before they come here. Its getting out of hand AND to pull the pledge of allegiance because it offends others? well you are in america and its what this country does if you don’t like it then go back. I understand you have your own beliefs but I am not moving to your country to change how you live and your beliefs. ugh

    1. Yeah!!! says:

      Why would anyone expect us here in the US to be tolerant an d open-mined. Gosh durn furriners!!

    2. Tammy Belka says:

      It’s not mandatory. This is a magnet school, not a public school.

    3. Elsie says:

      it is not mandatory. which part of the story – written in English – could you not understand?

  8. blah says:

    oh clamp it you cant even spell out words kthx?? you must be one of the jibberish speaking people. Well English is, its on everything and spoken everywhere here

  9. KYnative says:

    And this integrates them into our society how? Our ancestors learned english, so should they! All the immigrants should. But that isn’t politically correct. I could get penalized for that since we no longer have free speech.

    1. betty says:

      You are right. Our ancestors HAD to learn English. My Czech speaking grandparents did. They HAD too. THEY HAD NO CHOCIE, unlike so many now who come to the USA and expect everyting to be in their language.

      1. That's silly says:

        My grandma didn’t HAVE to learn English. There were enough people around who could speak German so she didn’t have to. She learned English so she could watch TV.

        And nobody EXPECTS anyone here to speak their native tongue. Everyone who comes here speaking another language already KNOWS most Americans are too provincial to be able to speak more than one language.

        1. DJP says:

          silly…I do not consider myself “provincial” just because I only speak English. If this is such an issue to you…why don’t you go where the people are NOT se provincial to you???

          1. Figures says:

            Typical TeaBagger reaction: “why don’t you go where the people are NOT se provincial to you???”

            So love it or leave it? How provincial can you get!!

            Thanks for making my point.

    2. Elsie says:

      Erm… since the kids in the program already speak English and are learning Mandarin as an additional language, one can only assume they are already ‘integrated’. The program is teaching children to speak Mandarin. It is not an education program for Chinese children. Guess your English reading skills could do with a little work!

      1. JMJ says:


        That is what they said about the spanish integration program in my area. Go figure most of the parents don’t or can’t speak english.

  10. billy says:

    After spending a lot of time in Germany I decided to take a German class. I’m so glad I did. I can now communciate without saying “does anyone speak English” Of course, I’ve a visitor in their country and don’t except them to be speaking English fluently. Next language for me Polish. Everyone should know more than one lanague. Although a lot of Spanish speakers except non-spanish spearkers to learn their language, and that is where I stop.

  11. AMG says:

    Oh my goodness, where did some of you people come from? The ignornance is unbelievable. If you did one shred of research on immersion, you would know that there are SO MANY positives to this form of education; neuropathway brain developement and problem solving skills amongst others. Statistically these kids will meet or surpass their english taught peers in their grasp of english before they even leave elementary school. Make sure you know what you’re talking about before you make sweeping generalizations on a subject you obviously don’t have much knowledge of.

    1. Well says:

      They’re TeaBaggers. What do you expect?

      If ignorance truly is bliss, they must be some very happy people!!

  12. DJP says:

    Actually English IS our national language and has been for many MANY years. Just because it is not “written down somewhere” does not make it so.
    Yes,,,others CAN speak what they want…but in this country, ENGLISH IS THE LANGUAGE!!!

  13. NYGirl says:

    If you mean a Tea Bagger that wants English as the official language in this country then yes, you idiot, it’s you liberals who want every immigrant to come here, take over every aspect of our country and expect this Tea Bagger to pay for it. If that makes me a Tea Bagger, I’m all for it because I’m for America and her values and morals, not the liberal anti-christ attitude that everything and anything goes. This is why our country is in the toilet!

    1. Well says:

      “(I)t’s you liberals who want every immigrant to come here, take over every aspect of our country and expect this Tea Bagger to pay for it.”

      NYGirl must be a very happy person. I rest my case.

  14. DJP says:

    If the parents want their children to learn Chinese…so be it. BUT…I think everything should be taught in OUR LANGUAGE>>>ENGLISH…FIRST, then Chinese if they want it.

    1. AMG says:

      You don’t get it… they ARE being taught English every single day in every other aspect of their lives. They are taught only in Chinese (or whatever the immerision language is) exclusively in the beginning to give them fluency in the second language; english comes later and they will quickly catch up and surpass their english taught peers. I said it before – do some RESEARCH on how immersion works… there is brain development that occurs ONLY if you have exposure to a second language as a CHILD vs. waiting until even the middle school years…. these kids are actually gaining an advantage.

  15. Jo says:

    I think its a great idea to teach children other languages. I’m pretty confused with all the hate and bull about not wanting to globalize our next generation more. And teaching our children how to speak another language while they are very young is the best idea. I’ve read many articles saying that we learn how to hear sounds better while we are very young. So why NOT teach them while they have the greater chance of learning at that age? Maybe they’ll grow up to not be as frustrated as some single-language supposed grownups.

  16. Kevin says:

    Some St Paul schools are 93% non white…with 70% of the children not speaking English…they need Hispanic Emmersion…..Hmong Emmersion….Somalian Emerson…Vietnamese Emulsion…Korent Emmersion…..etc….so just keep them all coming…and we will keep writing checks to feed failing educational systems…..

    1. jackactionhero says:

      You are mindless and have no critical thinking skills if that is what you learned from the article. Almost amusing really…

  17. Joe says:

    Why don’t we teach the kids proper english first? Back in the 1920’s did children have to learn 5 languages before they were 10? No let kids be kids and maybe the problem with our economy is it is too globalized if one country goes down so do the rest. We need to focus on our problems and take care of them before anything else.

    1. jackactionhero says:

      Because their brains are capable of learning more than you think they are. I know a boy who started Spanish Immersion as a kindergartener and is now fluent in Spanish at age 8. He didn’t have to skip learning English either.

      I think what we’ve proven here is that you don’t have the slightest clue about that which you speak, Joe…

  18. Wolf Wolfenstein says:

    well then lets just ship them all to china to live

  19. Proud Papa says:

    So, my choice to send my child to this school now has some of you vehemently deriding me, calling me un-American, and flapping their lips about immigration and their tax money? That’s all you can do? I am sorry that you are so upset by the changes in our world. I am sorry you have no concept of science, research, and data driven decision making. But mostly I am sorry that there are enough of you to possibly hinder my child’s future with your hate, willful ignorance, and prejudice. My son could speak full sentences of English more articulately than many of you have in your postings by the time he was 2. And now he’s learning another language, one that, all indications say, will play an important role in the future of this world. And he’s getting smarter because of it. His sharp intellect will be his only defense against the blunt assault of your misguided ire, and I am more pleased with his ability to get it with every one of your sorry posts I read. Thank you, Saint Paul Schools and Ben Mays Mandarin program, you give me hope in a world full of dim(wited)ness.

    1. jackactionhero says:

      Well played, sir. Bravo to you!

    2. Diana Orellana says:

      Yes!!! Thank you!!!! I am proud my son has the opportunity to be part of the Benjamin Mays Mandarin Program as well!!!!

  20. James Orton says:

    Wow, seems to be quite a bit of ignorance on both sides. I am a Tea Party supporter, my wife is Chinese national, my son has been learning Chinese and English since he was a baby, his first word was a Chinese word (baba = Daddy), he is currently in kindergarten and his language skills are on the above average side (English language) and unfortunately we do not live in a district with a Chinese language program for youth as young as him so we are going to pay for private lessons in a classroom environment. Not sure how becoming a more competitive emloyee/employer in the global market is “un-American” nor do I understand how wanting lower taxes and less government waste make me an “idiot.” I personally think the true morons are the people on this post on the far end of each side of the argument. BTW, if you read the article it is not a MAANDATORY class…parents can choose to give their children and English only education if they choose. I personally find it sad that someone would do so when they have an opportunity (that some of us pay out of our own pockets for) to have it a part of their public schooling education curriculum, but that is only my opinion. I raise my son as I best see fit, you do the same.

    1. Proud Papa says:

      You, sir, are very sensible. Thank you for your level-headed, thoughtful comments and for calling out the reactionaries for what they are. I don’t think we’ll agree on certain political issues, but as far as doing good things for our children, we certainly see eye to eye. Not sure if you are aware of this, but if you are in the twin cities area and want to send your son to Ben Mays, you can. The caveat is that you have to provide your own transportation. About a quarter or more of the class is from outside Saint Paul, attending thanks to Minnesota’s open enrollment rules.

  21. Nancy Aleshire says:

    I am all in favor of children learning to speak foreign languages,but at this early age–considering kindergarten attendance isn’t even required by law even though most parents choose to sign them up. Let’s keep the academics (reading, writing, foreign languages) to the mandated first grade and over levels. Let’s keep the younger levels for learning to play with other kids, and expressive skills as music and painting. Let’s allow children to just be kids–it is not the time for homework and tests.

    1. Proud Papa says:

      Well, then I’m glad that you’re not calling the shots. Now is the perfect time to get kids learning a second language.

  22. Harry says:

    Jenny, great job. go go!

  23. Elaine says:

    So if kindergarten Chinese immersion is so great, why did some of these kids
    “look frustrated and worn out. They sat at their desks with their head between their hands, or lying on the desk, in what appeared to be an intense and challenging school day.” Really, in KINDERGARTEN?

  24. Second Language Learning says:

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