Wednesday, June 12, 2024
News, analysis and commentary by UBC Journalism students

Battle of languages: English or Mandarin Chinese?

English may be the most widely spoken language around the world, but there soon may be another. The European colonial…

By Stephanie Lim , in Blogs Secret Life of an English Teacher , on February 4, 2008

English may be the most widely spoken language around the world, but there soon may be another. The European colonial times made English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese the languages most used for business. Today, Mandarin Chinese may soon be at par with the languages used to conduct business around the world due to China’s economic boom.

USA Today reported that “China is now the USA’s No. 2 trading partner, behind Canada and ahead of Mexico.” It’s no wonder why Mandarin Chinese is becoming so important.

Although my blog is about teaching English as a Second Language, The Republican (a newspaper from Springfield, Massachusetts) brought to my attention that there may be a need for Mandarin Chinese teachers in North America. Their article on January 21, 2008 reported that Massachusetts opened their first Chinese Immersion School this past September.

Like San Francisco’s Chinese American International School that began in 1981 with only four students, Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School in Amherst is quickly filling up with students from all different cultural backgrounds. 90% of pupils who attend have no prior experience with Mandarin Chinese. In these schools, students are taught a variety of subjects in Mandarin Chinese such as math and science.

Mandarin Chinese immersion schools are such a fascinating concept for me. When I was young, I went to ‘Chinese’ school. This is a place for Chinese children to learn Mandarin or Cantonese in North America. However, I only learned calligraphy, the history of Chinese people, and memorized famous poems. Now that there is a chance to be fully immersed in a Chinese language, I wonder what problems will arise with these students’ ability to communicate in English (similar to those who attend French immersion schools).

The CIA World Fact Book shows that the percentage of ‘first language’ speakers of English is 4.68% throughout the world (placing it in third place), while Spanish is in second place with 4.88%, and Mandarin Chinese is in first place with 13.22%.

I have yet to hear of any such schools in Canada. I would often hear of Saturday heritage classes where students can learn Cantonese or Mandarin Chinese, but this is the first I have heard where school subjects were actually taught full-on in Mandarin Chinese (like in French immersion schools).

However, if anyone does know of any Mandarin / Cantonese Chinese immersion schools in Canada, feel free to leave a comment for others to see.


  • There is a highly successful Mandarin Bilingual program in Edmonton, has been around for 26 years; they are a k-12 model. There is also one in Vancouver at Jamieson Elementary but they start at Grade 4. A group of parents are proposing a K-12 Mandarin Bilingual in Vancouver and North Vancouver for a Sept 2009 start. Website has all the info about the proposals.

Leave a Reply