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Learning from an Early Childhood Chinese Immersion Program in the Heart of Texas
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With support from the Ministry of Education, NTNU launched an overseas education internship program titled “Immersive Bilingual Education - American Kindergarten Education Internship” in Austin, Texas, this January. Led by Associate Professor Hsiu-Chen Wei of the NTNU Department of Child and Family Science, four aspiring preschool educators underwent a rigorous selection and pre-training process before participating in an immersive bilingual education experience. This experience took place at the Little Tiger Chinese Immersion School (LT School) from January 13 to February 9, 2024. The program not only sought to explore innovative teaching methodologies but also aimed to enhance cross-cultural understanding and bilingual education strategies.

Describing the educational approach at LT School, Internship Program Director and Assistant Professor Emily Yip from the School of Teacher Education said, 'Little Tiger School adopts an immersive Chinese teaching methodology. By integrating language, subject content, games, and activities into the curriculum, the school ensures that language learning is seamlessly embedded into children’s daily school routines.' She further highlighted the significance of the school's approach in a predominantly English-speaking country: 'Understanding how LT School promotes Chinese immersion in the United States can offer valuable insights for the development of bilingual teaching models for young children in Taiwan.'

Prior to the internship period, the NTNU team engaged in extensive online training sessions with teaching staff at LT School to ensure a smooth transition on arrival. While at LT, teachers-in-training Chiao-Ju (Cherry) Lai, Yeh-Chiao (Jolena) Lin, Yu-Ting (Caroline) Kao, Yu-Tzu (Letitia) Liu, participated in the immersive Chinese-language learning environment at LT School. They observed classroom and administrative management and engaged in feedback and discussions after assisting lead teachers in classrooms to integrate immersive language learning techniques into their teaching practices.

Over the internship period, the four early-childhood education teachers-in-training conducted several teaching demonstrations, gaining invaluable feedback from both the children and fellow teachers that helped refine their teaching plans and execution. They were especially inspired by the close collaboration and interaction between teaching staff and school administration, with the school principal providing both psychological and practical support (from assisting in classroom activities to taking photos and videos of memorable events for the children).

LT School's immersive Chinese teaching model stands distinct from traditional bilingual teaching models. The school's principal emphasized the philosophy behind immersive teaching of fostering language acquisition through environmental exposure rather than through direct instruction. 'Immersive teaching transcends the conventional language course format. It's about creating an environment where teachers continuously use the target language, enabling children to learn it in a natural, unforced manner,' he said.

Associate Professor Hsiu-Chen Wei and the teachers-in-training all noted that in this unique teaching environment, kindergarten children not only learn Chinese language but also immerse themselves in its rich cultural nuances, viewing the language as a powerful tool.

The LT School's multicultural and diverse learning environment presents both opportunities and challenges in curriculum design and teaching. Teachers strive to provide creative and goal-oriented courses, catering to the varied learning needs of their students.

In addition to their internship at LT School, the NTNU team also visited the Children’s Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin, gaining insights into early childhood cognitive development research. The teachers-in-training also had an opportunity to participate in a simulated experiment on testing for young children, which provided a glimpse into the construction of early childhood development theories.

Reflecting on the entire internship experience, the NTNU team noted that the LT School encouraged proactive exploration and learning in young children by placing an emphasis on the children’s emotional value, by creating a classroom environment on a foundation of love and gratitude, and by providing opportunities to experience diverse cultures. Seeing, firsthand, the LT School’s philosophy put into practice in emotional and cultural education was a inspiring and fruitful experience for the team.

Assistant Professor Emily Yip and Associate Professor Hsiu-Chen Wei acknowledged the impact of this internship experience and said that the comprehensive view of LT School’s educational practices, administration, and the professional community of educators, will inspire profound reflections on the team's professional practice in education, and encourage continued growth and improvement in future teaching methodologies.

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