Mark Day School
39 Trellis Drive
San Rafael, CA 94903

world language

Our language curriculum emphasizes cross-cultural literacy alongside the development of strong speaking, listening, reading and writing skills. Classes stay in the target language often and build confidence and comfort through a wide range of interactive activities. Older students begin to read stories and novelas in the and conduct presentations, conversations and discussions in the target language. Teachers also employ project-based learning to incorporate student creativity and cultural knowledge throughout the program. Children learn Spanish and Mandarin, for half the school year each, from kindergarten through 1st grade. Prior to beginning their 2nd grade year, they choose one of the languages to continue studying until they graduate. The Lower School program actively engages our youngest students in learning another language by using stories, songs, dance, games, puppetry, and crafts.


Our kindergarten and 1st grade students work on acquiring essential vocabulary, including colors, numbers, and words about oneself and one's family. The tones are introduced in kindergarten, as they are key to verbal communication. In 2nd grade, the key focus is on basic comprehension, pronunciation, and continuing to build vocabulary; students also start learning to form Chinese characters. Third grade is when they start "putting it together": They learn sentence patterns and further writing skills and are gradually able to express basic facts about themselves and their family.

In the Upper School, students gain the foundational tools they need to express themselves in Mandarin. The formal writing program begins in 4th grade, teaching more characters, as well as their stroke order and the ancient pictographs from which modern Chinese characters developed. In 5th grade, the building blocks grow to include a larger vocabulary, the past tense and the names of different countries; they begin reading comprehension this year as well. The 6th grade year focuses on verbal expression and comprehension, with a major project being a iMovie they make about themselves and their families. They will spend a lot of time reinforcing the reading and writing skills learned in 4th and 5th grade in order to prepare for Upper Division Mandarin.

Upper Division Mandarin exposes students to more Chinese culture and history, and it brings them past basic expression into more complex use of the language. In 8th grade, projects encourage big thinking: They will describe the layout of their own home and then design a dream home, learning and using the vocabulary for buildings and measurements. They will write an opinion essay--for example on the pros and cons of the Internet's influence--and they will design a dream trip, choosing an itinerary, shopping for airfare, describing what they would see, and making a budget. In addition, they keep a weekly journal, learn to write proper e-mail, and learn how to write an invitation.

Our teachers work to inspire their students to continue their study of Mandarin into the future and to further their knowledge and appreciation of Chinese culture.


The K and 1st grade years introduce the sounds, structure, and vocabulary of Spanish within the context of themes such as family, school, daily life, nutrition, and customs in the United States and Spanish-speaking cultures. In 2nd grade, comprehension and speaking are further developed, with a focus on accurate pronunciation and an introduction to writing. By the end of 3rd grade, students can comprehend and respond to instructions and questions, describe themselves, their families, and their surroundings, and they are writing short answers in response to prompts to prepare for Upper School.

Spanish in the Middle Division is filled with engaging projects and increasing interaction in the target language. Some of the themes in grades 4 through 6 include giving and following directions, discussing healthy eating, asking for help, and ordering food. Cultural experiences, including a visit to the colorful murals of San Francisco's Mission district, a parade of flags of the Spanish-speaking world, and making and presenting ofrendas for family members and famous Latinos for Day of the Dead, offer students the opportunity to connect to Spanish-speaking cultures and local communities. 

The use of interactive stories helps students further develop their listening, speaking, reading, and writing. While learning to express themselves in real-life situations--such as agreeing, disagreeing, describing, and complimenting--they also begin to write paragraphs and study the geography of the Spanish-speaking world.

Fifth and 6th graders work toward mastery of several verb tenses. Goals include comprehending spoken language, using correct pronunciation, as well as initiating and gaining confidence in conversation, discussions, and interviews. Vibrant lessons showcase stories, songs, dance, games, and culture. Students hear and speak mostly Spanish in class.

Spanish in the Upper Division delves further into historical and cultural topics, while students make great progress toward conversational proficiency. Goals for the end of the 8th grade year include comprehending spoken language, using correct pronunciation, as well as overall competence and confidence in conversation, discussions, and interviews. They learn several verb tenses and further develop their writing by addressing topics in greater detail using their ever-growing vocabulary and facility with grammar. Spanish-language dialogue, poetry, and novellas expose students to reading material that is varied in both style and content.

Featured Mandarin Project: Planning a Trip to Beijing

Seventh graders are asked to design an 11-day trip to China, and each group is in charge of two days of the itinerary. Every group creates a scene that represents one of their daily activities (ex: Visiting Panda, Beijing Airport etc), which they will incorporate with all the tools they learn from Tinkering (including 3D printing, prototyping, and basic arduino programming, servo manipulation). Students also create a guide book in Mandarin, which includes a list of all the useful vocabulary needed for traveling in China. Because the scene has to be authentic, it was very helpful to collaborate with visiting members of our partner school, Beijing #2 Experimental Primary School.

Students will independently use their learning to:

  • Communicate effectively, confidently, and with cultural awareness in the target language, including reading, writing, listening, and speaking, in a variety of contexts and for multiple purposes.
  • Seek opportunities to use proficiency in the target language with a deep lifelong appreciation of the value of languages and cultural differences.
  • Demonstrate cross-cultural literacy when interacting with native speakers of the target language or interacting across differences in language and culture.
  • Engage in multilingual communities both locally and globally.