Queens Catholic Academy Immerses Students in Dual-Language Learning

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By Emily Drooby

Inside St. Michael’s Catholic Academy in Flushing, Queens, students learn in English and in Mandarin Chinese.

The school says the dual-language program of Mandarin and English is the only one offered in a Catholic elementary school anywhere in New York State.

It’s needed now more than ever: the number of Americans speaking a foreign language at home has exploded over the past 30 years. In 1990, about 30 million people in the U.S. spoke a language other than English at home. That number more than doubled by 2018 with over 67 million.  

Most of those people speak Spanish or Chinese. 

“The Chinese population is so big in the world, it’s so popular,” explained Sister Martina Hou, who teaches Mandarin at St. Michael’s.

The program is an immersion curriculum, where sometimes students learn other subjects like math in Mandarin, too. 

“We’re preparing them for the future, and research does show that learning a second language bilingual brain does improve your cognition,” added Principal Maureen Rogone.

Developed by Boston College, the program allows students who speak a second language at home to grow those skills while in school.

“My favorite classes are technology and science,” said Aaron, a student at St. Michael’s.

But it also teaches the language to students who don’t speak it at home, like Gabriela, who learned Spanish from her parents and Mandarin in school. 

Through the program, Gabriela has become fluent enough to say the Our Father.

The program has been around for about seven years and St. Michael’s plans on growing it.