Human Interaction, Technology and Learning

Recently, we have come into two articles on the topic of technology, children’s growth and education. The first one is the A Silicon Valley School That Doesn’t Compute on New York Times:, while the second one is Troubling Toddlers Silenced with Apps from Daily Texan. You can find the original article here but with a different name:

While grown-ups nowadays are surrounded with technology without a choice, we still have to make choices for our little ones on whether to expose them to technology such as videos, iphone applications or not. The answer from our Chinese immersion classes is a “No.”

And the reason for that? We really value the “interaction” in language learning.

First, a lot of language learning resources such as cartoons and teaching videos are not interactive, and may even produce detrimental effects on children’s development. A study done by researchers at University of Washington shows that if an infant watches baby DVDs and videos for one hour per day, the infant will learn six to eight fewer new words than the one who does not watch the videos. Videos or DVDs do not provide necessary stimuli for infants’ brains and infants become passive information receivers when sitting in front of the screen.

Second, even if some high-tech applications and online courses are “interactive,” no one can take place of a classroom teacher.

Language is a social activity. One person speaks the words with information embedded in them, and the other person receives the words and extracts the embedded thoughts and feelings. The interaction process also happens along with other interactive signals such as body languages, facial expressions etc. In our immersion class, what our teachers create is exactly such a natural interaction process. For example, when a teacher asks a child to “穿鞋我们去外面。(Put on your shoes and let’s go outside),” she talks to the child with body languages and facial expressions. Meanwhile, she expects the response from the child. Her following reactions to the child depend on how the child reacts to her information. The uniqueness of immersion classes lie in interactions like this: children are put into the Chinese language environment, and learn through natural interactions with other human beings.

-Chinese with Meggie Language School, Austin, Texas

Elementary Program (I) – From Reading to Speaking

Every week, our elementary children are introduced to one picture book. The class is organized following the language learning order of “input –> output”. Thus, they are exposed to Chinese characters and sentence structures from the particular picture book first and then they are required to produce the story by themselves using what they just learned.

In the academic field, scholars have emphasized the function of “output” in second language learning. Particulary in the case of language learning, the “output” is not viewed as a product, but as a process. It can be defined as the process of language learners producing language with their existing knowledge of the language (Swain, 2007.) Therefore, they are pushed to evaluate their existing knowledge of the target language, and think about what more they need to know/ learn.

For example, in our last blog, we have introduced a picture book called The Rainbow Flower. As a matter of fact, the book is not only used in our immersion program, it is also used in our elementary program.

The students are first introduced to the story. For this book, they learn to recognize Chinese characters for “红色,黄色,蓝色,绿色,橙色,紫色” (red, yellow, blue, green, orange, and purple) as well as characters for “蚂蚁,老鼠,蜥蜴,鸟,刺猬” (ant, mouse, lizard, bird, and hedgehog.) And then they learn the sentence structures such as: “小老鼠问小花:‘小花小花,你可以不可以给我一片花瓣?’,小花说:‘可以可以。’” (The little mouse asked the little flower: “Little flower, little flower, would you please give me a pedal of yours?” The little flower responded: “Sure.” )

After that, students are required to tell the story by themselves following the book. In this step, they are experiencing the language output with the knowledge input to them just now.


Note: Swain, (2007) Retrived from 10.21.2011

-Chinese with Meggie Language School, Austin, Texas

The Magic of Picture Books (III) – The Rainbow Flower

The picture book we will talk about in this blog is called The Rainbow Flower. (To view the book, please follow the following link:

The first thing we love about this book is its simple pictures with bright colors. Children are attracted to the pages once the teacher opens the book. Every two pages feature one color and one animal with no other distracting elements. When going through the book, there are chances to repeat the animal names and colors several times which makes it a perfect book for teaching colors and animal names.

The second significant merit of this book is its repetitive structure which can be adapted flexibly to the needs different levels of learners. For beginning learners, the whole book can be interpreted with the following conversational structure:

“‘小花小花, 你可以不可以给我一片花瓣?’‘可以,可以。’***拿着*色的花瓣走了。” (“Little flower, little flower, would you please give me a pedal of yours?” “Sure.” *** went away with the *** pedal.)

On the other hand, for more advanced learners, the book can be interpreted with a more complex descriptive structure such as:

“***想问小花要一片花瓣,小花给了***一片*色的花瓣。***拿着*色的花瓣开心得走了。”(*** wants to ask for a pedal from the little flower. The little flower gives a *** pedal to ***. And *** went away with it happily.)

Children are not bored when reading the book for the second, or even the third time. With older immersion children, usually beginning from the fourth time, it is the time for the teacher to let students guess which animal comes on the next page, and what the color of the pedal the animal takes is. Students get very excited with the guessing game and therefore it is very natural for them to produce the colors and animal names in Chinese.




-Chinese with Meggie Language School, Austin, Texas

Music and Language (II) – How We Use Music?

We adapt a song for our own use. For example, the song 《十个小印第安人》(“Ten little Indians,”) is a great tool in teaching numbers and objects. We change the word “Indians” to all different objects such as “rabbit,” “oven,” “carrot” etc. Then students are practicing lyrics such as “有一只,有两只,有三只兔子……” (There is one, there is two, there is three rabbits…) They memorize the object as well as the numbers.

We also combine music with different activities. For instance, we may create a song or adapt a song to a picture book. We have a book about a train running all the way down. And we also have a song describing the train running all the way down. When flipping through the book, we simply sing the song. By doing this, the song is visualized without explanation.

We also use a lot of “situation-based” songs in classroom. For example, we have a song for clean-up, and also a song for going outside. When teachers begin to sing these songs, children know instantly that it’s time for clean-up, and it’s time for going out for a walk. With music’s soothing effect, it is easier to attract children’s attention which is also better than merely asking students to “Clean-up the toys.”

Here are songs we sing with our children in class very often. They are also songs sung by almost every child in China:

Two Tigers:

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star:

Little Donkey:

-Chinese with Meggie Language School, Austin, Texas

Music and Language (I) – Why We Use Music?

We love using music in our Chinese immersion classroom. Therefore, we have written the following two blogs which are about why and how we use music in our classroom.

Music and language interweave with each other and play a profound role in human’s development. For one reason, the music system and the language system share a lot in common. For example, they both have rhythm, tonality, pauses, and stress. For another reason, the combination of the two systems can produce positive effects on both systems. For instance, when we combine music and language to become a song, the language becomes more vivid and easier to express emotions.

For children learning their first language, scientists believe that children’s imitation of the rhythm and musical contours of the language even comes before the speaking of the words. When an infant is listening to a song, he/she does not only learn to discriminate between sounds, but also to acquire the language in a musical context. In other words, music can catalyze children’s language development.

It is not only true for children’s first language acquisition. As we are using music in our Chinese immersion classroom, we notice a lot of advantages in our children’s Chinese acquisition through music, too. In the next blog, we will talk about how we use music creatively in class.

-Chinese with Meggie Language School, Austin, Texas

The Benefits of a Small Class II – How to Make Use of It

As we have talked in last blog, there are several benefits in keeping the class size small in our case. However, as a smaller class size means a greater individuality, simply dividing 10 children into 3 groups does not mean we will achieve all that we expect from a small class size.

Children learn differently. If a large class size minimizes differences, a small class size maximizes them. Therefore, students should be grouped smartly and teacher should make sure they learn.

First, our old and new students are mixed together. Grouping new and old students together helps creates a language environment and it is especially effective in a language classroom. The first benefit is that new students will be motivated and in many cases repeat our old students’ Chinese. Also, our old students can sometimes be little teachers in class. For instance, they can tell a picture book story to new students with the help of the teacher.

Second, to make full use of a small group size, the teacher offer individual time to every student in class. The individual working time is both short and intensive. It can be going through a series of fruit flashcards with students individually, or it can be interact with one student about what interests him/her particularly. The individual working time is short, which lasts about less than one minute in most cases. However, it yields great benefits: First, the particular student gets very intensive language practice catered to his/her learning interests; and second, the other students in class are also listening and learning.

-Chinese with Meggie Language School, Austin, Texas

How We Benefit From a Small Class Size

At the very beginning, it is necessary to point out that even though parents tend to think that students can always be benefited from a small class size, not all studies support such a conclusion. On the other hand, a large class size has some of its own advantages: better preparation for college environment, better social opportunities, and greater efficiency in the use of education resources.

Smaller does not simply equals better, but it IS better only when it matches with certain teaching style and class environment. As reflected in our teaching practice, we find that a small class size works especially well with our teaching method and here is why.

First, in our classroom, students are not fixed on tables or chairs. They are free to move around the rug. However, there should still be an order in the classroom. Too many students will make it hard to achieve the order. Under such a condition, a small class size means that a balance can be achieved between the freeness of students and the teaching authority.

Second, small class size helps teachers design more group-specific activities. Not every student enjoys every single game. A small class size lets teacher cater to every student’s interests as it allows the teacher to avoid games that the specific group of students may not enjoy.

Third, when it comes to language teaching, smaller class size means that children get more opportunities in interacting with the teacher. In order to learn, children need interactive language situations and conversations that are pitched to their level. For instance, when reading a picture book with a group of four children, the teacher can interact with every child when reading verbally or physically; while with a group of ten, interacting with every student while reading only makes the reading procedure long and tiresome for students.

-Chinese with Meggie Language School, Austin, Texas

How to Help My Child If I Do Not Know Chinese? (III) – Flashcard

Children from our elementary program get Chinese flashcards every week. They review the cards with their parents to reinforce what they have learned at school. How to go through Chinese flashcards with children at home? Is there anything that parents should always bear in mind?

First, change the method of going through flashcards with your child from time to time. For example, for the flashcard “苹果 (apple),” you can show your child the Chinese characters and let him/her read out, or you can mix all the flashcard together and let him/her find the “apple” for your, or you can read the Pinyin for “apple” and ask him/her to find the card. By making this a game, you will find that children are not easy to get bored even if they are practicing the same vocabulary.

Second, make the practice short but frequent. For example, you can spend three minutes going through the flashcards with your child before snack time, another three minutes before he/she takes the bath, and another three minutes after he/she wakes up from the nap. Also, always give him/her something new. For example, if we have ten flashcards in total, review five of them with your children on the first day, and replace one of them with a new one the second day. By doing this, little by little, your child will amaze you how much he/she progresses.

Third, always stop before your child gets bored. You should be aware when he/she wants to stop, and stop before that. Therefore, they will look forward to next time’s practice. This “Stop Beforehand” principle does not only apply to flashcard learning, but it is true for all human beings at all stages of development.

All the points above are simple and you may find them easy to be applied into your flashcard review at home. You can really help your child embark on a new journey through language!

Also refer to our previous blogs:

How to Help My Child If I Do Not Know Chinese (I)

How to Help My Child If I Do Not Know Chinese (II)






-Chinese with Meggie Language School, Austin, Texas

Activity Snapshot (I) – Crossing the Tunnel

To provide you with a more straightforward impression of language immersion, this blog series is about how different activities work in an immersion class. Here is a snapshot of one of our classroom activities, which aims at teaching children animal vocabularies and also the sentence “这是什么?” (What is this?)

We use a play tunnel and a number of toy animals. The teacher sits at one side of the tunnel with all the animals by her side and children surrounding her. She picks up one animal and says the animal name in Chinese clearly, for example “兔子(rabbit).” Then one child gets the “兔子” and crawls through the tunnel with the “兔子” in his/her hand – Children always get really excited about this task. When he/she is crossing, the teacher hands another animal to the next child. After crawling out of the tunnel, the child goes back to the teacher and gives “兔子” back to her. The child then gets another animal and the word’s pronunciation, for example“老虎(tiger).” The child crawls across the tunnel again with “老虎.”

After several times of repetitions, the teacher tries to let children produce the words. She picks up an animal, and asks the student “这是什么?(What is this?)” If the child figures out the meaning of this question sentence, and says the name of the animal. He takes the animal and crawls across the tunnel again. However, if the student does not get the meaning of “这是什么?” the teacher will answer by herself, “兔子。” She makes the answer as simple as possible not to confuse the student. Children can always recognize the meaning of “这是什么?” the second time and try to conduct the animal’s name. After several rounds of repetitions, children know the animal vocabulary, and the sentence “这是什么?”

The remaining work of the teacher is to repeat the same information in other activities again and again to reinforce the memory. This activity is used as a basic vocabulary introduction, which works for all categories of nouns.

-Chinese with Meggie Language School, Austin, Texas

Does Learning More Than One Language Make a Late-Talker?

It seems to be a common belief that a baby begins talking later if he/she is learning a second language, and even later with a third one. King and Mackey have been talking about this popular misconception in their book “The Bilingual Edge” and found a reason for this prevalent myth: there is a great deal of variation in when children begin to speak. One child may utter the first word as early as eight months or as late as sixteen months. In other words, in any given group, children vary greatly in when to begin talking. However, if a bilingual child has a late start, the fact that the child is exposed to two languages is mostly blamed for his/her late first word.

So does learning more than one language make a late talker? In order to answer the question, in 1992, three scholars from University of Miami carried out a research which compared the lexical development of bilingual children and monolingual children (Pearson, Fernandez, Oller, 1993.) In this later widely-quoted study, they compared between 25 English-Spanish bilingual children and 35 English monolingual children ranging from 8-month to 30-month in age. The parents of the children were asked to complete questionnaires concerning the vocabulary their children could say. The result showed that bilingual children develop the same capacity in vocabulary development in both languages and they were almost in the same pace with monolingual children’s vocabulary development. In other words, there were no significant differences between bilingual children and monolingual children in their paces of accumulating new words.

Therefore, it is natural that children differ in their pace of language development. Being exposed to a second language does not impede children’s development in their first one. If language delay really occurs to a child, blaming bilingualism for language delay can block parents from seeing a variety of other reasons which may be responsible for the problem.

Pearson, B., Fernandez, S., Oller, D., 1993. Lexical Development in Bilingual Infants and Toddlers : Comparison to Monolingual Norms.

King, K., Mackey, A., 2007. The Bilingual Edge. Harper Collins: New York






-Chinese with Meggie Language School, Austin, Texas