China / Cover Story

Nothing lost in translation

By He Na and Peng Yining (China Daily) Updated: 2012-10-19 08:00

Class act shows learning English can be fun, report He Na and Peng Yining in Beijing.

It was time for reading class at the kindergarten. A dozen children, aged 4 to 6, leaned back on their small chairs and gazed at Sarah Curtiss, their 26-year-old teacher from the United States.

"Blue Chameleon," said Curtiss, pointing at a cartoon lizard on the cover of the children's book of the same name.

"Does he eat people?" asked 5-year-old Cao Qiulei, whose English name is Andy.

"Is he bianselong?" said Niu Dong, also 5, referring to the chameleon's name in Chinese.

Zhou Qihao, who has the English name Ben, nudged Niu and said in a loud voice, "Don't speak Chinese!"

Niu shrugged to indicate his innocence.

Nothing lost in translation

Sarah Curtiss gives her young pupils a head start and shows that learning can be fun at a Muffy's Education kindergarten in Beijing. Zou Hong / China Daily

Scenes like this often occur among the kids at Muffy's Education, a total-immersion English-language kindergarten chain in Beijing, where students are forbidden to speak Chinese once they enter the gates. Even Chinese names are forbidden during the school day, so each child has an English name, too.

"There are a lot of 'Tigers' and interesting names like 'Happy,'" said John Kung, president of Muffy's. "We have 20 foreign teachers working full time in each of our kindergartens. They are in charge of all tuition. Some Chinese teachers work as assistants, taking care of the kids' daily needs. They are all English majors and speak the language quite well," he said.

We are trying to create a pure English-language environment to help the kids learn and understand the language better, he said.

When Kung started the first kindergarten in the chain in 2004 there were only five students; now the number has soared to 350.

Like Muffy's, a large number of kindergartens in China - whether they offer total immersion in English or bilingual tuition - have witnessed a sharp increase in student numbers over recent years, despite the tuition fees generally being much higher than public or private Chinese-language establishments.

Nothing lost in translation

Children from the Golden Cradle kingdergarten in Beijing. Many Chinese parents send their children to bilingual schools hoping to provide a good educational foundation. Photos by Zou Hong / China Daily

Although no official data is currently available to indicate the potential market, experts estimate that it is already huge and will continue to expand in the coming years.

Beijing Golden Cradle Potential Education Institution, a bilingual kindergarten established in 1995, has grown in its 17 years, with 14 fully owned kindergartens and more than 100 brand-franchised nationwide.

"Because of the high demand, some classes even have more than 20 kids. English is a compulsory course at our kindergarten and is taught in English by English majors," said Mao Jian, president of the school's Huizhongli branch in Beijing.

"We have developed our own textbooks and methods. And all teachers are required to undertake regular training to improve the quality of tuition," said Cao Kun, 25, who has worked for Golden Cradle for four years.

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