Dist. 220 wants to teach younger students Chinese

Posted4/9/2010 12:01 AM

Barrington Unit District 220 will soon apply for a federal grant that would allow it to partner with the University of Illinois to create a 17-year-long curriculum for the teaching of the Chinese language Mandarin.

"It's an interesting concept; it's a provocative concept," District 220 board President Brian Battle said.


The unit district already teaches Mandarin at the middle school and high school levels, but the federal grant would allow instruction in kindergarten through fifth grade to be added.

If District 220 is a recipient of the grant later this spring, preparations would begin to add the new language curriculum in the fall of 2011, Superintendent Tom Leonard said.

Research has shown that children's ability to learn languages is strongest at younger ages, Leonard said. And more and more school districts have been adding Asian languages such as Chinese and Japanese to their traditionally Eurocentric curriculums in the past several years.

Though China's economic boom originally triggered interest in the language as a career skill, possessing strong language skills has many non-financial benefits as well, Leonard said.

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"There's still value in children being fluent in more than one language," he said. "I don't foresee a world where being bilingual wouldn't be a benefit."

The University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign has already reached out to District 220, expressing interest in adding a four-year undergraduate program in Champaign for students who've already been learning Mandarin from kindergarten through their senior year of high school, Leonard said.

This is an area where a unit district already has an advantage in its ability to coordinate language instruction across the elementary, middle and high school levels, he added.

But for the present, District 220's plans for the future are still at the exploratory stage.

The district - currently struggling with the uncertainty of its state funding levels - has not yet assessed its ability to expand its language instruction without the grant, Leonard said. Much currently depends on the writing of the grant application and its success.