The Department of Teaching, Learning, and Culture and College Station ISD partnered together to give local students a cultural experience through the Chinese and Korean Summer Program. Under the direction of Dr. Li-Jen Kuo, Associate Professor of Literacy Education, and Dr. Zohreh Eslami, Associate Professor of ESL, the summer program held at Spring Creek Elementary School, was a free program full of cultural enrichment activities.
This year’s theme was “A Trip to East Asia.” Students participating in the four-week program gained a variety of skills and insight into Chinese and Korean languages and cultures through speech and language activities, geographic history, science modules, performing arts and culturally relevant crafts.
“I think it’s important for young children to learn a world language,” Dr. Kuo said. “The majority of the world population speaks more than one language. We wanted to give our children an opportunity to see the world from different perspectives.”
Dr. Kuo’s research focuses on the impact of bilingualism on children’s cognitive and literacy development. The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) has a proficiency guideline in place for measuring language development for students. These guidelines were used in conjunction with the program, Dr. Kuo said. Her expectation was for participating students to reach the level of novice-mid, in the new language, by the end of the program.
“This program was both language and cultural based,” said Dr. Kuo. “We really wanted to get them to use the new languages in meaningful and interactive ways. Research has shown that children who speak more than one language may enjoy certain learning advantages.”
The program wrapped up its second year and focused on first and second grade enrollment. With the continued partnership with College Station ISD, Dr. Kuo stressed the importance of not only introducing young children to different cultures, but also having them participate in programs that reflect their communities.
“We’ve received tremendous support from the community,” she said. “Because this program involves many of our international students, the Chinese and Korean community here in town, as well as many individuals at CSISD, we are learning so much from each other.”
During the program, students learned different skills in designated classrooms. A team of TLAC graduate students instructed classes and communicated with students exclusively in either Chinese or Korean.
“Our program targets non-heritage language learners — meaning these particular students do not speak Korean or Chinese at home,” Dr. Kuo said. “It can be challenging for students at first, but it really requires them to think on their feet to understand what is being said. As a result, they end up learning and picking up skills very quickly out of necessity.”
During the science modules, students were put into teams and communicated with team members in Chinese or Korean to build robots from a robot kit. Each robot was specifically designed with digital software that allowed students to control the movement of each robot with the use of an iPad.
“It was very stimulating and exciting for the students. The science projects gave students an opportunity to engage in meaningful and purposeful communication in the new language,” Dr. Kuo said. “We introduced them to robotics because Korea is an increasingly important country in the world. They are a leading country in robotics development with a very strong economy. China is also currently the largest importer of robots.”
The Chinese and Korean Summer Program continues to be funded by a specialized grant called the STARTALK grant. According to the grant’s website, STARTALK’s mission is to increase the number of U.S. citizens learning, speaking, and teaching critical-need foreign languages, with programs for students (K-16) and teachers.