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South O.C. schools to offer first Mandarin immersion program

September 27, 2011 |  3:31 pm

South Orange County's largest school district will begin a Chinese-language immersion program next year, the first public school program of its kind in the county.

Classes are slated to begin next fall, and more than 165 families have expressed interest, said Marcus Walton, spokesman for the Capistrano Unified School district. District trustees approved the program Monday.

"A challenging economic environment is no excuse for not being able to offer new and innovative educational programs requested by our community," said board member John M. Alpay in a statement on the district’s website.

He said there is "intense demand" for the language.

The district already operates a Spanish language immersion program, but since Mandarin is the most spoken language in the world, "it made sense" to offer the new program, Walton said. More than 1 billion people speak Mandarin.

Students will begin the program in kindergarten or first grade, with 80% of the lessons taught in Mandarin.

"The older you get, it's a little more difficult," he said of picking up new language skills. "We wanted to ensure we could give our students an early start with learning Mandarin."

Walton said the school district would be part of about 80 in the nationwide that offer Mandarin-language immersion programs.

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--Nicole Santa Cruz

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