Tag Archives: children

Teaching Homeschooled Kids Spanish

When my husband really decides to do something, he has a singular focus that only a few people in life can understand. I don’t. I’m slow and steady and persistent. He’s “cut the drivel” and do it now. Can be quite intimidating and abrasive for those who don’t get it. But once you recognize it as a signature style, it’s actually kind of fun to observe! Anyhow, he decided to learn Spanish about ten years ago. That meant if you even looked like you spoke Spanish, he would strike up a conversation with you in Spanish. He had a few fails, especially on people with Latino background who didn’t speak Spanish. (So much for not profiling…) He should have been embarrassed, but the thing is, he didn’t care! He was learning Spanish and wanted to practice whenever he could! Oh, but his wife and kids blushed. I mean, at the Mexican restaurant, people would be looking around for their food, and there would be my husband holding up their server with his Gringo Spanish. Eventually, though, we quit being embarrassed, decided to follow along, and now make friends at every Mexican restaurant we frequent.

I myself started learning Spanish about thirteen years ago during my fourth year of medical school. Fourth year medical school is the best year of your life, as all you do is “fun” rotations that you pick out. Plus, you get travel time to go to interview at residencies. That was the year I asked a Spanish-speaking bank teller if she knew anyone who could help me learn Spanish. I was encountering dozens of patients who only spoke Spanish, and I wanted to bridge that gap a little but didn’t know any Spanish speakers with time to help me learn. She put me in place with a pastor who was teaching his congregation English, and my foot was in the door. I still remember driving to sketchy neighborhoods at night and eating cactus and menudo (tripe; beef stomach).

That’s briefly our Spanish story. Both my husband and I decided that our homeschooled kids needed to learn a foreign language, and Spanish made the most sense. In general, we are very practical people. Being practical, we also know that the best time to learn a language is as a kid. We had moved around and it took a bit of time to find a tutor because, and this is my personal opinion, there is a general distrust between cultures and perceived social classes. But we found a native Spanish speaker to come to our home and spend time with our young children speaking only in Spanish. (She and every single one of our tutors have been amazing people. Each different. But each amazing.)

My oldest has been learning Spanish for about eight years now, and we finally just enrolled her in formal on-line lessons. Up to this point, everything has been done in our home by native speaking Spanish tutors who have had no training in teaching. They were just people who spoke Spanish as a primary language. I’d like to share our homeschooling Spanish experience for others to read who may be embarking on this second language trek.

We have four daughters, the oldest started learning Spanish at five years old. My second daughter was about 3. My third and fourth daughters will have been exposed to Spanish since they were born. I’m not a linguist. I’m not a teacher. I don’t even speak Spanish fluently, probably not even English either, compared to many of you! This is just my story and experience. I’ll run it in several pieces as it gets long.

Do you need a tutor who is a native speaker?

Until a few months ago, all of our Spanish tutors have been native speakers. This was a Spanish tutoring deal breaker for me. They had to be native speakers. Why? Well, our ability to hear language sounds and make our mouth, tongue, and palate reproduce them is strongest in infancy and childhood. As we age, this ability goes away, and any new language sounds that we encounter will be spoken by us with the closest sounds available to us from our own language. The later we learn the language, the greater the guarantee we will speak with an accent.

For example, I’ll never really be able to roll my r’s to say a word like rio; I’ll just consciously soften my r sound and add on some softened, repetitive d‘s (or t’s, both similar English sounds), like we do when we quickly speak the word batter.  As an aside illustrating story, my American aunt married a native German when she was 20. She moved to Germany with him and has lived there exclusively over 50 years. She tells me that Germans still tell her it sounds like she’s speaking with mashed potatoes in her mouth. Accents stick, and sadly, even when I am choosing my Spanish words correctly, some Spanish-speakers simply can’t understand me.

So I demanded a native speaker so my girls would not have a strong accent. Now that my oldest is 13, her Spanish is reported to me to be little accented by native speakers (maybe even “non-accented,” according to some). We have made the leap to transition her to on-line teaching, and the man is not a native speaker. This no longer bothers me because her “Spanish voice” is now ingrained, she continues to hear native speakers routinely, and now she needs to focus on grammar and progressing in her use of verb tenses.

For me, I believed in immersing my children as early as I could and as frequently as I could so they could get the SOUNDS EMBEDDED in the neural pathways of their brain and the CONNECTIONS WIRED to their mouths. Grammar and writing was not important to me early on. That is becoming important now that my oldest is maturing in her Spanish language, and so we have chosen an on-line tutor now who is not native that I know is strong in grammar skills.

For the fact, science-minded people, here’s an excerpt from a neuroscience book that you can read pieces of on-line:

Very young human infants can perceive and discriminate between differences in all human speech sounds, and are not innately biased towards the phonemes characteristic of any particular language. However, this universal appreciation does not persist. For example, adult Japanese speakers cannot reliably distinguish between the /r/ and /l/ sounds in English, presumably because this phonemic distinction is not present in Japanese. Nonetheless, 4-month-old Japanese infants can make this discrimination as reliably as 4-month-olds raised in English-speaking households (as indicated by increased suckling frequency or head turning in the presence of a novel stimulus). By 6 months of age, however, infants show preferences for phonemes in their native language over those in foreign languages, and by the end of their first year no longer respond to phonetic elements peculiar to non-native languages. The ability to perceive these phonemic contrasts evidently persists for several more years, as evidenced by the fact that children can learn to speak a second language without accent and with fluent grammar until about age 7 or 8. After this age, however, performance gradually declines no matter what the extent of practice or exposure.

That’s it for today. I’ll follow with the rest of the Spanish posts in readable bits. Everyone, take care!

Terri

Citations:

Purves D, Augustine GJ, Fitzpatrick D, et al., editors. Neuroscience. 2nd edition. Sunderland (MA): Sinauer Associates; 2001. The Development of Language: A Critical Period in Humans. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK11007/
Illustration: By Juan de la Cuesta (impresor); Miguel de Cervantes (autor) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. In public domain, {{PD-1923}} – published before 1923 and public domain in the U.S.

What’s A Cat Who Can’t Hear?

Click here to listen to some music.  It’s Indiana’s (United States) state song.  A song from my childhood.

I was standing at our homeschool association’s annual track and field day event, chatting with another mom that I don’t know too well.  We got to talking about how both of our families had moved a lot, mine around the United States and hers around the world.  How we were both raised on family farms and had never moved until our college years.  How much we adore our childhood homes and families there.

She plied me with questions.  I’m usually the one full of questions, very intense, always hearing my mom’s voice in my head, “Terri, your questions scare people off…”  But there’s just too much to learn.  I can’t help myself.  So I was tickled when she began asking me thinking questions. Here is one she asked.

She said, “You’ve moved around a lot like we have with your kids.  How do you create HOME for them?”

How do you create home when you move around?  This girl and me, we’re Midwestern farmers’ daughter (..wehome make you feel alright..).  Home is the house.  Home is the land.  Home is the smell of the lilac tree at Mother’s Day.  The fields after a rain.  Your elderly neighbor Mabel sending you home with walnut laden cookies.  And you hate black walnuts but you love Mabel.  Your mom at the kitchen sink.  Your dad and his muddy boots.

Yes!  Yes!  That’s home!  For us, it’s scary to move our kids around.  Are we ruining them?  Robbing them of the stability we both experienced and treasured?  We talked together, she and I, and I thought I’d share.

How to create home when you have no home.

Work MUSIC into your lives:  My mom sang to me, lullabies, hymns and silly songs.  Her singing was angelic despite her tone deafness.  Her arms holding me.  Her vibrating voice against my ear on her chest.  Her rocking.  Her going about life with a song, in the car and doing dishes.  Oh, but it wasn’t just my mom!  Dad played music

all the time in the car.  Different music than Mom’s music.  Loud music.  Bob and Tom.  Q95.  ZZ Top.  Jethro Tull.  Always with his silly jokes tossed in.  “What do you call a cat who can’t hear?”

The music of home.  Music creates memories of home that travel through the years and spans all distance.

The comfort of ROCKING:  My husband and I debated this one out.  Is it the actual chair, or is it the action of rocking?  We decided it can be either.  But definitely the secure, strong, loving arms of mom, dad, or grandma rocking you feels good.  When pain in life arises, sometimes you look back to the haven of that time when you were secure, loved, and protected in the arms of a special adult who rocked your cares away.

If your kids will let you, rock them to provide them a memory of home nobody can steal.  If the chair can travel with you, take it.

Share MEAL TIMES AND SPECIAL FOODS: No matter where we live, we have to eat.  We’ve struggled a lot with food intolerances in our house, and it has taken away a lot of our old, favorite recipes.  I was afraid it would take away our “special foods.”  But it hasn’t.  We don’t sit around the table anymore with a pizza box in the middle, but you will find us sitting around the table eating together the work that our hands created.  New foods.  New combinations.  New favorites.

Eating together and sharing food has to be one of the top memories from home, and it’s easily transferred to any location!  Nothing stirs memories of home more than being greeted at the door by a home cooked meal.

Spending TIME TOGETHER OUTSIDE OR BEING ACTIVE:  Being together is home.  And to walk and be outside together in each environment you live in, appreciating it together, creates lasting memories.  I know in the future, my kids will say things like, “Do you remember how hot it got in South Carolina?”  “Do you remember how windy it always was on the prairie of South Dakota?”  “Do you remember that little park we always walked to in Lexington, Kentucky?”  I once remember the time my mom played tag with my dad, my sisters, and me.  She never played much with us, but this evening she played tag.  I remember it.

Home truly is people being together, in harmony with each other, doing things together.

in the fieldsVisit the FAVORITE PEOPLE WHO DON’T MOVE:  Although we’ve moved a lot, my parents have never moved.  There is something reassuring about this.  When we say we’re going home to visit them, my kids know exactly what that means and what they’ll be doing.  They know when we’re getting close by the landmarks.

Some people, some places are constant.  And sometimes, constants are nice.

No discussion is complete without RELIGION:  I have a young woman who helps me and feels like a part of our family.  She has lived in 27 different places in her less than 30 years of life, from Colombia, South America to Israel to New York.  Her religious background is pretty diverse too, but she relates to me that getting ready for synagogue together was important to her sense of “home.”  It was a constant in each place her family lived.  Getting ready each worship day together and going all together to the same place provides a sense of togetherness–a sense of continuity.  Discussing the lessons learned (or disagreed with) in the car on the way home further fuels that sense of family.

Years will pass, but we often (usually?) draw on the religious experiences of our families.

Celebrate HOLIDAYS:  Festive foods.  Festive activities.  Together.

Holidays travel with the calendar, not the location.  Or maybe they travel with your heart and you can celebrate the holiday any day you wish.

Have a favorite VACATION spot:  Even though we move around a lot, we often vacation to the same place each Black Hills, Roughlock Fallsyear to a treasured vacation spot.  Years from now, my kids may travel back with their families to see if “it’s the same.”

Home is where the heart is.  And vacation is always a good place to be.  Eh?

Closing

What do you think?  I hope my blog is found to be a place to share ideas and thoughts.  I would love to hear what you think about home.  Are people who move around a lot better at change?  Are people who don’t move more stable?  Does it probably not matter either way–and people just are who they are?  Is it important to instill a sense of “home?”  What instills a sense of “home” best?  How do you create “home” for your family?  Is home an “energy?”  If home is an energy, then are we all being called home?

And lastly, what is a cat who can’t hear?  Careful, it bites.

Happy June!

~~Terri

On Hummingbirds and Red Food Dye

English: Hummingbird hovering at a feeder

English: Hummingbird hovering at a feeder (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A small scene from a visit to my friend’s picturesque home in an Indiana forest:

Me to Dear Childhood Friend:  You have so many hummingbirds at your hummingbird feeders.  They’re beautiful!  And your water is clear rather than red!  I thought they liked red!

Dear Childhood Friend to Me:  Yeah.  They say the red food coloring is bad for them.  So I don’t use it.

My eyes skirted over to the candy dish with red suckers and red hot cinnamon candies on the kitchen counter, and my mind echoed, “Bad for them …bad for them…bad…”

(I quickly looked up red food dye and hummingbirds and found this post which seems fair and this post.)

(You commonly hear about red food dye and an ADHD connection.  I like to read Georgia Ede’s, MD posts because she is meticulous about posting her sources, and uses primary research.  Her post Food Sensitivities and ADHD has a section in it about food dyes.)

Food counts.  Don’t think it doesn’t.

Have a great weekend!

Terri