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U46 may teach Mandarin Chinese — on iPads

Updated: July 21, 2012 6:29AM

ELGIN — Students at the World Languages and International Studies Academy at Streamwood High School soon may welcome Elgin School District U46’s first courses in Mandarin Chinese.

Or make that “huan ying.”

District officials presented a plan to launch courses in Mandarin this coming school year on Monday night during the regular U46 Board of Education meeting. The academy currently offers courses in Spanish and Japanese.

“We’re preparing students in this academy for college, and they’re continuing the study of their languages in college. So we’re looking to see what colleges are doing,” said Mark Atkins, divisional head of the World Languages and International Studies Academy.

College-level study of the Chinese languages is up more than 18 percent, according to the Modern Language Association statistics cited by Atkins.

More than 900 million people now speak Mandarin as a first language — more than English and Spanish combined, according to the divisional head. Both Forbes and Business Week magazines have called it “the language of business,” he said.

Interest in learning the language in U46 also has grown: Last year, four incoming freshmen at the World Languages and International Studies Academy expressed an interest in Mandarin courses, Atkins said. For the 2012-13 school year, 25 students expressed interest and 31 ultimately have enrolled in Mandarin, he said.

U46 Superintendent Jose Torres joined years-long discussions about a Mandarin program in the district after his trip to China in November as part of a “Chinese Bridge” delegation sponsored by the College Board and Hanban, a division of the Chinese Ministry of Education.

Beyond academy

“The expansion of this will be dictated by the number of students interested,” Atkins said.

That includes expansion to other students at Streamwood High School not enrolled in the academy, as well as students at other U46 schools, he said.

Already, U46 has a teacher in place for the proposed Mandarin program: Lina Li, who currently teaches special education and math courses at Canton Middle School in Streamwood. Li would continue part-time in both roles.

The teacher helped select the “Discovering Chinese” program as the academy’s Mandarin curriculum.

Tablet texts

The program also would be the first in the Elgin school district to rely solely on iPad textbooks.

“We’re really in an area that is uncharted waters for us,” said Greg Walker, assistant superintendent of secondary education in U46.

U46 had experimented this past school year with tablets in the classroom, according to U46 Director of Information Services Craig Williams.

The science department at Bartlett High School had used iPads provided by its textbook publisher, Williams said. And Harriet Gifford Elementary School and Ellis Middle School, both in Elgin, had used Motorola Xoom tablets in class, he said. Xoom runs on the Android operating system.

The district also will roll out Xoom tablets for family and consumer science courses this coming year at all five of its high schools, Williams said.

Li said the tablet textbook is “designed appropriately for learning Mandarin Chinese.” The interactive format will allow students to hear the tonal aspects of the language, as well as the order in which strokes must be drawn in Mandarin characters, she said.

The Mandarin program will cost a total $20,739.20 to implement, according to the presentation at Monday’s school board meeting.

The school board next will vote on the plan to begin a Mandarin program this coming school year at its next meeting, 7 p.m. Monday, July 16, at the U46 Educational Services Center, 355 E. Chicago St., Elgin.

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