Bilingual program builds cultural connection

Students at Richmond West Primary School are splitting their lessons evenly each week between English and Chinese.

When Richmond West Primary School learning specialist Kaicheng Luo enters the classroom each morning to greet his students, he’s met with a range of responses — although none are in English.

The Grade 3 and 4 students can be forgiven — or more so, praised — because they’ve responded in just the right way to Mr Luo’s question ‘Zao shang hao. Ni zuo tian wan shang chi le shen me?’

Thanks to the school’s greatly successful Chinese immersion bilingual program, the students can interpret exactly what Mr Luo has asked ‘Good morning. What did you eat last night?’

It’s one of the achievements of the language program, which is open to children from Prep to Grade 6 and sees them taught 50% of their classes in Chinese and 50% in English each week.

When the school first opened in 1975, it predominantly catered for the Chinese and Vietnamese community, with both languages still offered as part of the school’s standard languages other than English program.

Now the school’s bilingual program attracts local families from diverse cultural backgrounds, which helped it take out last year’s Dr Lawrie Shears Excellence in Global Teaching and Learning Award.

Grade 3 and 4 students David and Linton said learning Chinese made them feel happy and proud.

‘When you are older and work for a business, you might be a translator for someone who doesn’t understand English,’ David said.

‘If you have a friend who doesn’t know how to speak English, you can help them,’ Linton added. 

About two thirds of the students participate in the program, which has enabled strong connections to be forged between the school and the local community.

Principal Tip Kennedy said it broadened their perspective of the world.

‘Their soft skills are also enhanced by learning a language in an immersion setting,’ she said.

A typical day in the classroom sees students focus on literacy, numeracy, speaking and inquiry.

Mr Luo has taught at the school for four years and said learning a second language assisted with overall development. He said those involved were unconsciously working twice as hard.

‘Regardless of what language they’re learning, it’s going to support them and push them to utilise the ability of the brain,’ he said.

‘From Prep to Grade 6, they slowly and gradually build that capacity and resilience to take on more workloads than their peers, than other kids their age, and they’re unaware of that.’

With Mandarin Chinese being such a widely spoken language worldwide, Mr Luo said it would help students when they eventually joined the workforce.

‘They’ll have more opportunities,’ he said. 

‘They become more accepting, more culturally aware and develop their intercultural capabilities.

‘Those moments when they are enjoying the learning without having the barrier of language, they’re the moments when I feel very happy and very proud.’

Find out more

This year, Education Week celebrates the theme ‘Building Connections’. 

It is an opportunity for all primary and secondary schools, higher education, and early childhood services to showcase how they are building connections with the community around them. 

Education Week will run from 23-29 May. 

Students from Richmond West Primary School.