Tag Archives: teaching Spanish

Teaching Homeschooled Kids Spanish, Part II

There’s a lot of talk about tolerance in America and how we, in particular our schools, can make people more tolerant. You can’t make people more tolerant from the outside in. It’s more likely to happen from the inside out, and there is a perfectly sound, academically acceptable way to begin to foster tolerance in our schools from the inside out: foreign language instruction beginning in kindergarten. Forget STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). There’s time for that later. (Neither Albert Einstein nor Isaac Newton flourished in their elementary math and science instruction, although I’ve read that Mr. Einstein learned French at a young age, had very little accent in the language, and was invited frequently to lecture in France, where he delivered the information in fluent French.) Foreign language acquisition promotes unity, brain development, and global competence.

In most American schools, learning a foreign language is a bottom priority and doesn’t truly begin until ninth grade (around age 15). So for all this talk about teaching kids tolerance (and for that matter, how to succeed in a global economy), we errantly save something that’s scientifically known to be best learned as a young child (which can promote tolerance and unity early on in an educationally appropriate manner) and shove it into the teenage curriculum. Think. What’s happening in the teenage years? At this time, kids are painstakingly trying NOT to be different! They just want a place to fit in.

Well, anyhow, my homeschooled kids are learning Spanish. It isn’t easy to track down tutors. It isn’t easy to keep them motivated. It isn’t easy to know what to tell the tutor to teach or how to teach it. But, my kids deserve, like most of the rest of the world, to know how to speak a couple of languages or more. I’d encourage the rest of you to call your local schools and start discussing academically legitimate ways to improve tolerance (don’t diss the other ways in any way, shape, or form–that won’t work), and I think early language acquisition is one of them. More rules won’t solve problems.

Okay. Enough on that. I want to share more on how we actually have implemented this Spanish curriculum. This is part two today. For part one, click here.

Where do you find tutors?

We chose the immersion method to teach our kids Spanish, which meant we simply needed a pleasant person who spoke Spanish and could interact with kids well.  My kids loved art, so the tutors would draw and color with them, naming colors, objects, and pictures as they went along. Sometimes, they’d go push them on the swings and describe the parts of the playground (swings, slides, sandbox). Sometimes they’d fly kites. But all of it was in Spanish. I didn’t want Spanish “class.” I wanted Spanish-speaking in life.

I approached many Spanish speakers I saw out and about, but I could see the thought of “teaching” intimidated them. It took persistent seeking to find someone willing to come be our Spanish tutor. Once they figured out all they’d have to do is play with my kids while speaking in Spanish, they didn’t mind.

Here are places and ways I have found Spanish tutors:

  • I have approached bank tellers with those little signs that read: “Se habla español.”
  • I have attended Spanish-speaking Sunday school classes and churches.
  • I have attended English as a Second Language classes that I found signs for at the library. I usually call and see if they need volunteers. If you get your foot in the door, you can meet Spanish-speaking students in the class who may reciprocate language instruction with you.
  • I have called a local university and asked to speak with the Spanish department head about potential students who may want to earn extra money tutoring.
  • I have asked the Spanish tutor we have to help us find another person if they have to leave.
  • Several of our tutors have been members of the local “International Club,” a club for people who move to our community from foreign countries, so this is a good place to ask.
  • I have asked the local Montessori school instructor. (Montessori schools are often multi-cultural.)

What did your Spanish teachers do?

My goal early on was immersion. Have the kids only hear Spanish with this person. What did they do? They played. Often my kids even picked the activity. I watched the kids for boredom or frustration during the “lesson” and guided them to different activities as needed. Many times, I got the tutor started on WHAT to do, letting them take over then as they figured out what I wanted. Some of our tutors have had their own unique ideas and after running it by me, did their own thing, and others liked it better if I told them what was on the agenda that day. I worked with the teacher’s style. Here are things I remember doing:

  • Playing on the swing set
  • Drawing (rooms of the house, gardens, and animals), labeling, and coloring
  • Flying kites
  • Having  tea parties
  • Planting seeds
  • Simple games like “Mother, May I” and “Simon Says”
  • Having competitions in the house among the siblings to see who can find objects fastest
  • Scavenger hunts
  • Classic children songs from the tutor’s childhood
  • Library books in Spanish
  • Flashcards
  • Spanish BINGO
  • Cooking food from the tutor’s homeland
  • Playing Barbies
  • Making plays in Spanish

How often did your tutor come?

Originally, all I could get was someone to come once a week as her work schedule allowed. As the years have passed, we have been able to find tutors able to come at a bare minimum of twice a week for two hours total a week. So my kids heard native Spanish at least two hours weekly in our home. Now, we are super lucky to have a friend who comes each day and speaks in Spanish with the girls.

Didn’t your children get frustrated when the tutor spoke only Spanish?

That was where my job came in. I almost always participated in the lessons. (I always asked the tutor if they preferred me present or not present. Usually they said they didn’t care. So then, I’d try it both ways and see which way my kids did better.) Not as a dictator, but more of an encourager, “Look we are in this together. I’m learning it too. We can do this,” and assistant teacher. If my children were getting frustrated, bored, or overwhelmed, I sensed it and could interpret or redirect as needed. Of course, I also asked the Spanish teacher to do that too, if they needed to. We had the best results when the tutor spoke entirely all in Spanish. My kids expected me to speak English and the tutor to speak Spanish.

How much did you pay?

This was greatly determined by the region of the country that I was living in, the year (prices go up as the years pass!), how much experience the tutor had, how many hours the tutor was going to come each week, how many kids I had at the time, and what the tutor was expected to do. I remember when a tutor asked for a certain price, and I was like, “Whoa! That’s a lot.” Then, I Googled it and saw that I was getting a bargain! Again, I think the price is greatly determined by your region of the United States. Our foreign language instruction does get the biggest chunk of our homeschool budget because I can’t teach it.

Closing

Well, I have more on this topic and will save it for another day. May you all be well and live well.

Terri

Illustration attribution: Francisco de Goya [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons; {{PD-1923}} – published before 1923 and public domain in the U.S.

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.