The Experience of Dual Language in Pre-K!
"Ni Hao" (Hello), my name is Li Mei Huang. I am the dual language Mandarin teacher at District 20 Pre-k Center Z075. I was born and raised in China. As an immigrant who studied in the United States, I sincerely believed that teachers were very important. Learning a new language in a new country was challenging for me, but I was very grateful to get all the support I needed from my family, friends, and teachers. We all need someone we could trust, understand our cultural background, and be willing to support us. My effort paid off. I got accepted by Hunter College and majored in Childhood Education. I want to be the one who all children can look to as a role model, one who inspires and encourages them to strive for greatness and see the best in themselves.
After graduating from Hunter College, I quickly started my teaching career at a daycare center. As a preschool teacher, I got to experience exciting moments with my students. I could be the first person to see a child eat by himself, or to see a child dress himself, or write his name correctly. It was such a great accomplishment seeing them grow and learn each day.
To best support all the bilingual children, I continued my master's degree and earned my Early Childhood, Special Education, and Bilingual certificates. Besides working as a preschool class teacher, I also worked as a special education itinerant teacher. I worked with bilingual preschool children with a disability on academic, language, emotional, and social skills. Working directly with a child, one-to-one or in a group, to support each child in areas where they had the most need were also important functions of mine. Although I felt a significant achievement teaching bilingual special education children, I wanted to broadly support and help more bilingual children in a classroom.
Teaching is challenging, but it is worth it when I see my influence on students’ lives and so I continued to grow when I joined the Department of Education family in 2013. In the first six years in the DOE, I was a transitional bilingual teacher. I taught second grade for three years and kindergarten for three years. As a transitional bilingual teacher, I offered children the opportunity to learn to speak, understand, read and write in English while learning academic content in their home language. My goal was to support children in their home language while fully transitioning to an English-only instruction class.
Every day, I used miming or gestures with my speech and facial expressions to indicate emotion and other kinds of body language. I also used a lot of visual aids in the form of pictures or pointed to sections of text or materials to be used as I mentioned them. I provided children with opportunities to interact with other students to naturally enhance English language development. This also provided the scaffolding needed to help English language learners achieve in the content areas. I felt so proud and great to help children achieve and move toward an English-only instruction class.
Teaching continued to be full of excitement and challenges as District 20 Pre-k centers expanded their dual language Mandarin classes in 2019. I viewed this as an excellent opportunity to challenge myself and become an even better teacher. The need to be able to speak Chinese is growing. More and more families would like their children to be bilingual, biliterate, and bicultural. I applied and joined the District 20 Pre-K family! Our Pre-K dual-language program provides the same academic
content and addresses the same standards as English language classes. Our students benefit from a full day of class instruction in English followed by a full day of class instruction in the target language, Mandarin. This program further confirmed the idea that teaching children a different language can be something very beneficial for their future.
Every day I greet my students upon their arrival at school. It is motivational to start a day watching them skip or hop into the class with smiling faces. Establishing a positive classroom climate can make children feel a sense of belonging. Children are more motivated to learn when they feel safe, happy, and connected to others. They look forward to everyday learning activities, books to read, songs to sing, and findings through their explorations provided by our program. I teach a new word every day and use it in conversations, so the children get used to hearing it. I help children pick up Mandarin in a fun way. I use gestures and expand children’s listening comprehension. I sincerely believe that children will feel safe and relaxed by making funny gestures; and they will easily pick up the language. Throughout the day, children also learn Mandarin as they interact with their social skills
Songs and nursery rhymes are great ways to learn languages. Children thrive on repetition, and nursery rhymes are set to just the kind of catchy tunes that stick in the brain for a long time. Whether it’s Itsy Bitsy Spider, Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, or Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes, the chances are that we can still remember the melodies no matter how old we are and the words. Throughout the day, I use songs whenever and wherever is possible. I sing songs during morning meetings, transition time, washing hands, during centers time, and dismissal time. The same applies when those words are in a foreign language. I add actions to the tunes and words to make the learning experience more fun and impactful, as the children will associate the actions with the words and their meanings.
Throughout each day, I use a lot of visual pictures and one-to-one support to help each child participate in daily routines. I have children in my class with no English or Mandarin each year. Simple picture cards, labeled in English and Mandarin, can help communicate until the child’s vocabulary grows. Children can recognize and practice writing by imitating or tracing Chinese characters or English words during their center learning. When talking to children, my language level must be age-appropriated. Lessons should build on their previous learning. All lessons also have to serve the children with different visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and sensory learning styles. I try to maximize the target language offering children opportunities for group peers in the whole class collaborative learning.
Every day will bring about new development, new challenges, and something funny to laugh at. Learning a language is very challenging yet very interesting and fun. Learning is about every single second that is happening around you, and that is how I think education is. Happy moments with children give me fuel to charge ahead on even the most challenging days. I love what I do. I am very proud to be a part of this Pre-k family. I hope more and more children will benefit from our dual-language program.
Li Mei Huang- Mandarin Dual Language Teacher