Elementary Spanish Program

Newsletter Spring 2007

Fun Summer Spanish Practice Activities

It is very important that students somehow stay in touch with their newly-acquired Spanish skills over the summer; they need to speak Spanish and actively listen to the language regularly. To help them practice, here are a few suggestions:

The Importance of Parental Feedback

What were your expectations when you enrolled your child in the Elementary Spanish Program? Are these expectations being realized? Whether the answer is yes, no, or somewhere in between, it is important for parents to provide feedback to teachers and other professionals involved in our children’s education.

As a parent, I have at times questioned the value of my feedback. I am not a trained, professional educator. How much can my thoughts and comments really contribute? But parents hear lots of things from their children that teachers never do. Which activities are our children remembering and sharing with us at home? Are they excited and having fun? It is important for teachers to hear this and get encouragement from parents. Likewise, if our children seem bored or complain, we should not make assumptions as to the cause. The solution may or may not be readily apparent, but this is important information for the ongoing growth and improvement of the program. For any organization to thrive there must be good communication in all directions.

Showing interest and involvement in our children’s activities is also terrific role modeling. Children take things as seriously as their parents do. If they see parents involved and asking questions, they will likely be more motivated to participate.

The Elementary Spanish Program was started by a group of parents and teachers committed to early second language acquisition. Parents’ ongoing involvement and support will keep the program strong and the vision on course. If you have questions or suggestions anytime throughout the year, please feel free to talk to your child’s teacher or contact the Elementary Spanish Program office at 303-440-7196 or by email kidsspeakspanish@juno.com.

Please take our parent survey. Share your experience with ESP this year and help us make a difference to better meet your child's needs and aspirations. Your comments would be greatly appreciated!

What Happens in Middle School?

Hooray! My oldest daughter has finally reached the age at which Boulder Valley School District offers a foreign language! She is 12 years old and probably still upset with me that I forced her to take Spanish rather than some other “fun” elective. By 7th grade, it’s not too late to learn a second language, but all the research points out that she should have started years ago. Luckily through the Elementary Spanish Program, she had that opportunity and was able to study Spanish for three years prior to Middle School.

So, how do you evaluate those three years in the ESP program? Was she able to skip into 8th grade Spanish? Is she fluent? Could she read a menu or converse with a playmate if we went on a vacation to Mexico? The answer to all these questions is no. Did I really expect her to pick up this much Spanish in 3 years? Not really.

Is she comfortable with the language? Does she have a good accent? Can she pick out the rhythm and some words in a sentence when she hears Spanish on the TV or radio? Would she attempt a few phrases if we went to Mexico? Are the basic Spanish words as familiar to her as many English words? To all these questions, I would answer yes.

She is lucky to have a middle school teacher who adheres to the same philosophy as the Elementary Spanish Program. The first 2 months of 7th grade have been spent using an auditory approach, in fact the same TPR method that is used in the Auditory II program. With the strong foundation laid in her three years in ESP, everything she is learning now just fits into place. She isn’t struggling with concepts, because she has been hearing the language off and on over the last 5 years.

My daughter’s experience with Spanish reminds me of what she was like as a three year old. At the time, I would be amazed on a daily basis when she would casually use a new word in a sentence, and always in the right context. I never taught her those new words. She had just been quietly listening to all those conversations for her first three years. Maybe that’s what she has been given through the Elementary Spanish Program. If so, it’s been worth every penny.

Why Learn a Second Language Early?

As many of you already recognize, learning a second language early tends to come more easily and naturally. There are underlying reasons for this ability. Apparently, the number of synapses in the brain affects how flexible one is in assimilating new information, especially such things as language patterns, which are like jigsaw puzzles. Research in this field is ongoing, but neurological studies show interesting findings related to the quantity of synapses from birth to age 10. At birth, we possess approximately 2,500 synapses, and that number increases dramatically by 6 months of age to around 18,000. Then, at two years of age, this quantity settles to 15,000 or so and remains fairly consistent until about ten years of age. At that time, the synapses not in active use deteriorate, resulting in the loss of about half of the total. While the deterioration paves the way for the brain to grow in strength, it decreases the earlier flexibility. Therefore, early acquisition of languages is preferable.

The Elementary Spanish Program was founded in acknowledgement of the need for early instruction, reaching the children early while they are most susceptible for developing a native-like pronunciation. Our overriding goal is to first spark a life-long love for languages and interest of different cultures, then develop an ear for the language, and lastly build a large platform of vocabulary that will last and that they can later build upon as they continue with their Spanish studies.

Bilingual elementary education is more available now than it was in 1971, when we began, yet this approach is not for everyone. Some parents prefer a more traditional school setting, with language learning as part of the curriculum. Until such time as Spanish may be re-incorporated into the local curriculum, we hope to continue to provide sufficient exposure to build a solid foundation from which students may move forward as they reach middle school. Obviously, attending classes two times per week for 20 weeks per year will not achieve fluency, as that requires years of daily interaction for hours each day. However, our students studying at the elementary age may reasonably expect to develop the following: a more natural accent, a sense of competence in everyday conversational listening and speaking skills (which is often neglected with older students), ownership of simple grammatical structures learned through use and judging the "rightness" of speech, and an appreciation for cultural differences explored through respectful student interest. Moreover, as content in all areas of the curriculum increases in difficulty, Spanish won't be just one more foreign concept for these students. Having studied early will allow them to better focus on their other subjects.

Times change, the Census 2000 figures show that the number of persons of Mexican origin alone in the U.S. has increased by 53%. We are committed to improving with the times as well. In the past 33 years, we have developed 6 levels of curriculum, re-written portions of several of them to adapt to evolving language instructional techniques available in this field, created stories to support varied language goals, and are in the process of creating our second song CD. Some of these improvements have come about through parent contact and the sharing of your learning experiences either here or abroad; we encourage your involvement as always. Being founded and supported by parents, we sincerely value your input as we strive to provide a quality learning experience for your children.

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Please send comments or suggestions to Elementary Spanish Program at kidsspeakspanish@gmail.com.