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Assessing and Exploring the Oral Proficiency of Young Mandarin Immersion Learners

  • Tara W. Fortune (a1) and Zhongkui Ju (a2)

This article presents original empirical research carried out in the early total Mandarin language immersion context. The study involves K–5 learners from three early total Mandarin immersion programs whose home language is English. We examined students’ second language (L2) oral proficiency in Mandarin in two ways: (a) a statistical comparative analysis of cross-sectional assessment data for kindergarten, Grade 2, and Grade 5 students and (b) a detailed linguistic complexity analysis comparing immersion students’ speech samples (one per grade level) produced during the assessment interview. Results indicate significant differences in median scores between kindergarten and Grade 2 in all domains; however, no median score differences were found between Grades 2 and 5. An exploratory complexity analysis of three speech samples revealed increasingly higher levels of grammatical complexity across grades. Measures of lexical complexity for the Grade 5 sample, while higher than those in kindergarten, were lower than those of Grade 2. Study findings question the efficacy of existing proficiency assessments at capturing the multidimensionality of oral proficiency in the intermediate and pre-advanced range. They also highlight the important role finely grained complexity measures can play in informing curriculum, instruction, and assessment practices.

Corresponding author
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Tara W. Fortune at the Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition, University of Minnesota, Global Programs and Strategy Alliance, 140 University International Center, 331–17th Avenue Southeast, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 55414. Email:
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Annual Review of Applied Linguistics
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