MET:Mandarin Bilingual Programs in British Columbia

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This page was originally authored by Dana Brand (2010).

Canadian elementary school student learning how to write in Chinese

Mandarin Bilingual Programs (referred to as MBP on this wiki page) constitute a new strong movement of bilingual programs in public schools in Canada, especially in British Columbia and Alberta, the most Western provinces of Canada. The need of such programs emerged as a result of multicultural demographics of Western cities such as Vancouver, British Columbia, as well as from a larger context of global economy. Both parents and educators are reaching a consensus in that fluency in Mandarin language, as well as familiarity with Asian cultures, are a must in our contemporary society.[1]

MBP: History of movement and motivation

Mandarin Bilingual Programs are on the rise in the Western Canadian public school systems. This process is a natural progression as three major conditions are met in this environment:

  • The Canadian education system has an established history of bilingual programs in the form of French immersion;
  • Western Canada has some of the largest Chinese communities in the world;
  • China is presently a very strong world economic power and Mandarin is its official language.

Bilingualism in Canadian schools

Bilingual programs have a long history in the Canadian education system. French immersion programs were introduced into Canadian schools in the 1970s to encourage bilingualism across the country. They are now well established and popular with a large segment of the population. According to Statistics Canada, immersion students outperform non-immersion students in reading. This could be because in general, parents of immersion students are from higher socio-economic backgrounds and are more likely to have a postsecondary education. Also, girls tend to be better readers than boys and statistics show a larger population of girls in immersion programs.

However, when gender, socio-economic background and parents’ education are each taken into account, the results show that French immersion students still outperform their counterparts in non-immersion programs.[2] Extrapolating these results to any language immersion, bilingual programs prove beneficial indifferently of the actual language taught in the program.

Chinese culture in Western Canada

Chinese New Year Parade in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

With a large intake of Chinese immigrants, Canada is quickly becoming one of the world's countries with a significant Chinese population. According to Canadian Geographic, Canada’s ethnic Chinese population now exceeds a million, from which one-third lives in Vancouver. Other than Winnipeg, where they are outnumbered by a Filipino population, the Chinese are the largest visible minority in every city in Western Canada. Vancouver, British Columbia has one of the most diverse Chinese-speaking communities as Statistics Canada data shows that over 17% of the approximately 2.5 million people living in the Vancouver metropolitan area are ethnic Chinese.

Economical significance of Mandarin language

China, the world fastest growing economy, is expanding close to 10% per year for nearly 25 years. It is the world's 3rd largest economy based on Purchase Power Parity GDP. Mandarin is also the most spoken language in the world (one in six people speak it worldwide) [3]. As China's economical power grew, Mandarin became the second most prevalent language of business, after English. It is thus obvious how a Mandarin speaking person has a great advantage in the business world and in today's job market.

MBP Initiatives in the Vancouver area school districts

Despite the strong influence of the Chinese culture in Vancouver and the surrounding areas, as of March 2010 there is only one MBP program implemented in Vancouver in the public school system. None of the surrounding cities has a currently running MBP.

MBP VSB Program at Dr. Annie B. Jamieson Elementary

Jamieson Elementary students

Dr. Annie B. Jamieson Elementary School in the Vancouver public system has the only Mandarin Bilingual Program in British Columbia as of March 2010. This school is located in an upper middle socio-economic community on the west side of Vancouver and 45% of the students have a home language other than English, while several families have one parent who is working and living in Asia. Many of the Kindergarten students have little or no English when they arrive. The profile of this school made it an ideal candidate for a MBP setting. Entry to the Jamieson Elementary MBP commences in Grade 4. Students have the option of continuing into high school at Eric Hamber Secondary School. However, this is more than just a Mandarin learning program, as the students are also automatically enrolled in a Strings Program that is very competitive. Although a great enrichment program, this unique MBP does not satisfy the rapidly increasing need for Mandarin bilingual public school programs in Lower Mainland.

2010 upcoming programs at K-1 level in Lower Mainland

Not only that the existing MBP in Vancouver doesn't meet the needs of a large segment of the population who is expressing interest for this new form of program, but grade 4 is also considered by many a late age for starting the learning of a language[4]. Based on the French immersion programs experience, as well as studies for early language development, entering a bilingual program at Kindergarten level is most beneficial. [5]That is why, the current proposals for new MBPs are advocating starting them at an early age.

As of March 2010, the public school systems that have taken concrete steps towards early BMPs are Coquitlam, Vancouver and Burnaby, with Coquitlam having the program already approved and in the process of implementation for September 2010.

Coquitlam Program

The MBP in Coquitlam will be launched in two kindergarten and two Grade 1 classes at Walton Elementary in September 2010. Class time will be divided equally between English and Mandarin instruction, with a separate teacher for each language. This 50-50 bilingual split differs from French immersion programs, which offer 80- to 100-per-cent instruction in the second language[6].

Vancouver Program

The Vancouver Board of Trustees has approved the implementation and start up of the Early Start Mandarin Bilingual Program for September 2010. However, this program will be subject to the same budget review as all other VSB programs and services during the 2010-2011 budget process in March and April 2010. The program Goal is defined as: "To provide students with the opportunity to learn Mandarin through language instruction and core subjects delivered in Mandarin." [7].

Burnaby Program

In January 2009 an update on a proposed Mandarin language has been presented to the board. The proposal is for a MBP which would run in kindergarten to Grade 3 classes; children entering the program would be expected to be fluent in English and that Mandarin would be used exclusively for the language arts component. English, math, gym (and other classes) would be in English, while students would have about 30 minutes of class time each day geared towards learning the language and culture. The classrooms would follow the B.C. Ministry of Education's curriculum.[8]

Parental Involvement

BC Parents for Mandarin

Mandarin for BC Schools Organization Logo

Parents have had a crucial role in demonstrating a need for these programs and in making it public. In 2007 parents of school age children in the Lower Mainland cities have started an organization meant to lobby for MBPs in public school, called Mandarin for BC Schools. The organization has chapters in North and West Vancouver, Vancouver, Tri-Cities (Coquitlam, Port Moody, Port Coquitlam), Burnaby and Richmond. They are reaching out continuously to the communities of these cities and through online surveys they have collected data that has been used in advocating for these programs to the school districts.

Similar existing programs

MBPs are not unique to British Columbia. Similar efforts have been developed in other provinces across the country, as well as in United States.

Alberta MBPs

Edmonton Chinese Bilingual Education Association Award Ceremony, 2009

Data from Edmonton Chinese Bilingual Education Associationshows that Edmonton’s Mandarin bilingual program runs from kindergarten through Grade 12 at twelve public schools started in 1982. Instructional time comprises as close to 50% in Chinese as possible. At the elementary level (Grades 1 to 6), the subjects taught in English are: English Language Arts, Science, and Social Studies. Subjects taught in Chinese are: Chinese Language Arts, Mathematics, Art, Health, and Physical Education. Music may be taught in both languages. Chinese Language Arts is an optional course at the Junior High (Grades 7 to 9) and Senior High (Grades 10 to 12) levels. Chinese Language Arts at the Senior High level meet the language requirements of the International Baccalaureate (I.B.) Computer skills in Chinese word processing are practiced when possible. Chinese Language Arts carries the same credits as other optional courses.

MBPs in United States

According to Mandarin Immersion Parent Council, there are many excellent Mandarin Immersion programs throughout the United States. They are both private and public schools programs and the degree of immersion varies from after-school only Chinese instruction to 90% of school instruction time.


MBPs are in high demand across North America and British Columbia is embarking on this strong movement with new programs targeted at early learners. While these programs are still experimental, we will see an increase of enrollment and a need to continue these Mandarin immersion programs through middle school and high school.


  1. Georgia Straight, "Mandarin's a must in multilingual Vancouver",, February 19, 2009.
  2. Allen, Mary (2004). “Reading achievement of students in French immersion programs”. Educational Quarterly Review, Volume 9, number 4, pages 25-30. Catalogue 81-003-XIE
  3. Ethnologue, 1999
  4. Baker, Colin., Foundations of bilingual education and bilingualism, 4th ed., Multilingual Matters Ltd., 2006
  5. Genesee, F. H. (2009). Early childhood bilingualism: Perils and possibilities. Journal of Applied Research on Learning, 2(Special Issue), Article 2, pp. 1-21
  6. The Vancouver Sun, "Mandarin bilingual for Mandarin-speaking children?",from, Feb. 2, 2010.
  7. The Vancouver Sun, "Vancouver school trustees approve early Mandarin bilingual program?",from, Jan. 19, 2010.
  8. Mandarin Edge, "British Columbia set for K-3 Mandarin classes in 2010", from, Jan. 18, 2009.