Learning to speak a minority language at school: Mandarin speech development of children in a Chinese bilingual program in Canada

Dr. Youran Lin, Linguistics, University of Alberta

Date: Friday, November 24
Time: 3:00pm - 4:15pm
Place: ESB 1-33 or Zoom

Zoom link:
Meeting ID: 997 5631 8725
Passcode: 041716

As a newcomer, I was impressed by the bilingual programs in Edmonton. On my first visit to a Chinese school, Classroom 16 just finished the lunch break. As the students packed up their school bags, their English teacher waved goodbye. The students walked across the hallway to Classroom 17, where their Chinese teacher was saying “你好.”

In these schools, English and Chinese classrooms work in pairs to provide students from diverse language backgrounds with immersion education. Students, despite their home language backgrounds, are expected to achieve functional proficiency in the minority language (Mandarin) given the intense and high-quality input from teachers and peers. This is not an unrealistic expectation since second-language learning theories highlight a key role of speech input, and evidence from other bilingual programs showed that the differences between second-language learners and heritage speakers could be levelled out through schooling.

However, when talking with the educators, a principal asked, “Why after many years in the program do the children still have accents in their Mandarin?” Was this observation true? If so, what factors were related to such learning outcomes? This talk will present qualitative and quantitative evidence from my doctoral thesis as well as related current and future directions of the team. Specifically, we will discuss interviews with bilingual educators, phonological data based on transcription, acoustic measurements of tones, and more.