I Wonder How My Child Can Become Proficient in Spanish

What makes a second language stick in a classroom environment? I’ll give you a hint–it’s not a laundry list of vocab words. Not flashcards, not posters, not labels. Isolated words and sentences only go so far when it comes to communication. It’s great if students know all the colors and days of the week, but what good are they on their own? 

Language is best acquired naturally, and in context. For example, instead of learning all the colors in the first week of Spanish, never to see them again, we point them out as they come up. During a story involving a hungry little pig, we can pause and talk about each food he encounters, first asking what the little pig is eating (a carrot), and then asking what color is the carrot (orange).

-¿El cerdito come una banana?

-¡No!

-¿El cerdito come una manzana?

-¡No!

-¿El cerdito come una zanahoria?

-¡Sí!

-Sí clase, el cerdito come una zanahoria. ¿De qué color es la zanahoria? ¿La zanahoria es azul?

-¡No!

-¿La zanahoria es amarilla?

-¡No!

¿La zanahoria anaranjada?

-¡Sí!

-Sí clase, la zanahoria es anaranjada. El cerdito come una zanahoria anaranjada. 

Do you see how much Spanish was used?  This is more effective and engaging than pointing to a chart and saying “White is blanco. Blue is azul.” Giving multiple choice options that students can say no or yes to is a great way to deliver comprehensible language to children. Visuals and props can also be used to enhance this. 

Now, this may work for Casa kids and the younger Elementary students, but what about Upper Elementary? Surely they don’t want to hear about little pigs eating carrots. No, of course not. But this strategy of comprehensible input can be adapted to all levels. For example, in Grade 3-4 we are doing a Movie-Talk. Teaching Classical Languages says a Movie Talk “involves a teacher using the target language at a level comprehensible to his or her students. [They] narrate sections of a video while pausing the video strategically for discussion, questions, and educated predictions.” 

Our most recent Movie Talk uses the music video ‘Soy Yo’ by Bomba Estereo. We look at the main character of the music video and describe her appearance, which is review from previous units. They then get to decide her name, her age, and where she is from. This again reviews vocabulary from previous units. 

Now, I narrate the movie and use repetitive language. In this particular video, the girl is being made fun of but she does not care and keeps moving forward. Our repetitive vocab includes ‘miran, se rién, le da igual, sigue’ (they watch, they laugh, it doesn’t matter to her, she continues on). This vocab includes reflexive verbs, stem-changers, and indirect pronouns which in a traditional grammar-based program would be considered “complex” and not introduced until upper levels. But given the comprehensible nature of this instruction, young children are able to learn how it is used much earlier.

From here, the sky’s the limit. Kids can read the typed movie-talk, put it in order, illustrate it, match text with screenshots, act out the story, retell the story, come up with different narratives or endings for the story. All the while, this creates a personal connection and a rich context which allows students to more easily recall the language.

See below for a few more ways we create a personal, contextual connection with the language in Spanish at MBTS:

After creating a story about a Flamenco dancer in Spain, students learned how to use ‘castañuelas’ typical of Flamenco music. Jocelyn tries them out here and Amelie dances along!

Grades 1 and 2 learned a story about how to make Mexican hot chocolate. Here they practice their skills in ‘batiendo’ with the chant ‘Bate, Bate, Chocolate.’ An authentic and delicious activity that sticks in a child’s memory as a tangible language experience.

Kinder and Grades 1 and 2 have been learning traditional clapping games and practicing them with partners. It’s an authentic activity that they can easily continue outside the classroom with high-frequency vocab such as ‘arriba, abajo, al lado, al otro.’

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