Sonrisas Spanish Blog

preschool spanish lessons Learning a foreign language is one of the most fun and exciting experiences to embark upon. It can also be one of the most difficult for some people. That’s where we come in. There are plenty of different ways to go about learning a language like Spanish, but our elementary school Spanish curriculum, Spanish story books, and homeschool Spanish curriculum are some of the best tools on the market to do just that. It’s also one of the reasons more and more parents are starting their children with preschool Spanish lessons to get an even earlier jump.

Preschool Spanish lessons from Sonrisas are the perfect way to get your child interested and excited about learning a new language. Our programs are designed specifically to engage and build a fundamental understanding of the language, compared to many “curricula” that rely almost exclusively on things like raw memorization and flashcards.

There are plenty of different reasons to get your child started on preschool Spanish lessons from Sonrisas, but here is a couple of the most important.

  1. Culture and Diversity: The world is becoming smaller and smaller every day through technology and things like social media. That’s why it’s becoming increasingly important for children to grow up in an environment where cultural diversity and learning about foreign places is encouraged. In fact, more than two-thirds of the world’s children are bilingual, according to the Summer Institute of Linguistics. Now consider that in the U.S., only about 17% of the population can speak another language besides English. We have a lot of catching up to do if we want to stay at the forefront of global communication, trade, business, and overall interaction. It’s up to the next generation to spearhead this effort and what better way to start than with preschool Spanish lessons for your child.
  2. Easier to Learn: As most people are well-aware by now, learning a foreign language only gets more difficult the older you get. Most experts suggest starting a child before the age of 10, but if you can start them even earlier — say around five — you’re only increasing their odds of success. There’s more than just anecdotal evidence to back this up, too. Children actually lose the ability to hear and reproduce new sounds like they did when they were younger between the ages of eight and 12. This makes learning a new language after this not impossible, but certainly much harder.
  3. Increase Intelligence Overall: Not only has it been proven that learning a second language makes it easier to learn a third, but there have been studies to suggest learning a new language can boost your intelligence overall. Preschool Spanish lessons can help give your child the jumpstart they need to succeed with ease in various other aspects of education and learning.

The U.S. has been slow to catch up with other countries when it comes to bilingual education, but that doesn’t have to be the case with your son or daughter. Even if you don’t have the time to homeschool them, our preschool Spanish lessons are perfect for spending 30 minutes or a couple of hours after school. Not only are our preschool Spanish lessons a great learning tool, they’re also an excellent way to get some quality bonding time with your child.

Sun  Meet Sonja Whisman

Sonja began teaching in southern California in the early 90´s where she taught primary classes in grades K-3 (one being a K-2 combo for native speakers in Spanish). In the mid 90’s she moved to Texas and then Iowa where she home-schooled her children for seven years. Sonja worked as a substitute in Iowa, and as the local school districts learned that she could speak Spanish, she was called frequently for long-term Spanish substitute teaching jobs. She found that she really enjoyed it, and she discovered that the Midwest has vibrant foreign language programs. She enjoyed teaching Spanish so much that she went back to college to earn her Spanish language teaching credential for Iowa. Sonja’s first position was at Goodrell International Baccalaureate middle school in Des Moines, Iowa. Three years ago she moved to Arizona and was hired last year to teach Spanish at Mountain View Preparatory International Baccalaureate school in Cottonwood. IB schools require a foreign language to be taught at all levels. Sonja currently teaches Spanish for grades K-8 using the Sonrisas Spanish Curriculum. She teaches the primary grades twice per week for 30 minutes and the upper grades twice per week for 40 minutes.

Book  How Sonrisas Spanish is Effective for Sonja

Sonja appreciates the organization and natural approach of the Sonrisas Spanish Curriculum. She enjoys the songs, games, books to read, and art projects. She really loves the time that the independent projects give her to check each student’s understanding, one-on-one. She uses the curriculum suggestions for how to teach the different segments of the lessons, such as Circle Time, and she appreciates the focus on teaching to the multiple intelligences. Sonja uses Sonrisas Spanish in all grades and supplements the curriculum with additional vocabulary and grammatical concepts for her upper grades. Being a musician herself, her favorite part of the curriculum is the music, which she uses with all her classes—accompanying the class on her ukulele. She enjoys repeating the songs through the grade levels and believes that this repetition is helpful for her students. Sonja says, “Families who have siblings at our school have enjoyed the fact that their older and younger children can sing together at home and report that they frequently do (as well as reenact different lessons and activities)!” For Sonja, the Sonrisas Spanish Curriculum has been fun to implement, easy to apply and easy to adapt. Her principal and the entire staff at Mountain View Preparatory have been very pleased with the results, and they are happy to have happy students of all ages enjoying Spanish.

lightbulb4  Teaching Tips from Sonja

Being a former English language Spalding-style reading teacher, Sonja feels that consistent practice in physically making the sound-symbol connection in any language is important. She includes in each day a short practice of sounding, writing, counting out (each student with a whiteboard and dry erase marker), and pronouncing current vocabulary words or sentences syllable by syllable. During the “sílabas” portion of class, students eagerly learn how to use the Spanish articles, other grammatical concepts, and new vocabulary. The entire school (460+ students) has responded very favorably to this, saying that this practice helps them very much with learning new words, understanding how Spanish words are written, and knowing what is expected from them on their independent work.

Sonja also has interpreted and incorporated many concepts and practices of Chris Biffle’s Whole Brain Teaching into her Spanish lessons, which has added another level of fun and motivation. (She says, “As if the Sonrisas Curriculum needed any more!”) These class management methods and techniques for good teaching incorporate a lot of physical movement and verbal response, keeping “teacher talk” down to around 50%.

heart4  What Inspires Sonja

Sonja loves to see children using their creative juices as they learn a foreign language because she feels that it gives them a feeling of freedom—that it is ok to try things, that it is ok to make mistakes, and that it is ok to have fun—all at the same time. She believes that barriers to learning come down as children express themselves in music, art, dramatizing the lyrics to a song, or performing skits. This seems to her to be the most natural and painless way to learn a language. She feels that learning a new language should be something like going on an interesting journey.

If you would like to connect with Sonja, you can do so by finding her on Facebook or by visiting the Mountain View Preparatory website at http://mvp.cocsd.us/ .

 

Sonrisas Feature Teacher honors exceptional teachers who are using the Sonrisas Spanish Curriculum by telling their stories. If you know someone who would be a good candidate for a Sonrisas Feature Teacher, email us at info@sonrisasspanish.com.

spanish curriculumThere are virtually an infinite number of reasons for someone to want to learn a foreign language. Anything from upcoming travel plans to general enjoyment and everything in between. Learning a new language is one of the most fulfilling and potentially beneficial things you can do for your personal, intellectual, and professional development. In fact, children who learn a second language can typically learn a third even easier and on average, bilingual employees earn about 20% more than their monolingual counterparts.

At Sonrisas, we specialize in Spanish curriculum for kids and younger children. This is the time when it’s easiest and most effective to learn. Some people suggest you start children at the age of five on a preschool Spanish curriculum, but at least before the age of 10 is ideal.

However, as experts in the foreign language learning business, we love to hear about people of all ages learning new languages and the subsequent cultures behind them. That’s why when the foreign language app for mobile phones and devices called Duolingo came out, we were cautiously optimistic. Learning a new language as an older or young adult can be extremely difficult, but it seems that this mobile app, which lends itself to the Millennial generation, has become popular and successful at helping people do just that.

According to a piece from Quartz based on numbers provided by Duolingo, Spanish curriculum’s are still one of the most popular options for new learners everywhere. The company analyzed some of their data and found that of the 120 million users they currently boast, Spanish was the third most popular option behind only English and French. Among users only in the United States, Spanish was the number one choice.

This indicates that not only is learning Spanish a valuable commodity on a global scale, it’s crucial for U.S. residents. This only begs the question, why wait until your child gets older and past the time frame when it is much easier for them to learn a new language? Invest in a homeschool Spanish curriculum today and get your child started off early. If this data is any indication, they’re going to wind up trying to learn it on their own at some point down the line anyway.

Make it easier and more enjoyable for them in the long run by investing in a Spanish curriculum from Sonrisas today.

Fehl photo2Sun  Meet Debra Fehl

Debra has been teaching elementary Spanish at Rutgers Preparatory School in Somerset, NJ for six years. She started her career teaching literature, reading, and writing in grades 7-12. She then worked as an assistant in Pre-K at Rutgers Preparatory School where she learned all about early childhood development from the lead teacher. When the school needed a Spanish teacher, Debra stepped in to fill the position. Debra appreciates the cultural diversity at Rutgers Preparatory School and the fact that the school offers Spanish at the elementary level and five different world languages at the secondary level. Rutgers Preparatory School is the oldest independent school in New Jersey—celebrating their 250th anniversary this year! Debra teaches Spanish in grades K thru 5th with a schedule that goes from teaching twice per week for 30 minutes in the early grades to teaching three to five times per week for 45 minutes in the upper grades.

Book  How Sonrisas Spanish is Effective for Debra

Debra appreciates the organization of the Sonrisas Spanish Curriculum. She likes how each lessons spells out which songs to sing, which books to read, and which projects to do. She finds it helpful that the curriculum explains how to teach the different segments of the lessons, such as Circle Time, and she likes how the curriculum connects to methodologies such as teaching to the multiple intelligences. Debra uses Sonrisas Spanish 100% for her early grades and implements different parts of the curriculum for her upper grades. Her favorite part of the curriculum is the music and the books which she uses with all her classes—she enjoys repeating the songs through all the grades and believes that this repetition is helpful for her students. For Debra, the Sonrisas Spanish curriculum has been easy to apply and easy to adapt.

lightbulb4  Teaching Tips from Debra

Debra uses puppets or stuffed animals to engage her students in conversation. For example: she will have her young students greet a puppet and introduce themselves to it using the phrase, “Hola Señor Plátano, me llamo ___.” She repeats this activity for up to six months until her students have mastered this very practical language usage. Debra also uses a mystery box to practice vocabulary with her students. They get to pull an object out of the mystery box, and then they say, “Yo tengo ___.” Debra emphasizes that she tries to keep her classes as fun as possible. She believes that speaking a new language can be intimidating for students, so she tries to make it as enjoyable and comfortable for them as she can.

heart4  What Inspires Debra

Debra is inspired by getting to watch children of all ages learn a new language through play and music. She says, “I get to set the tone for them, for years to come, that learning a new language and culture is fun and exciting, and it opens new doors for them.” Debra truly gets a lot of pleasure out of watching how much children can enjoy learning—and that inspires us.

If you would like to connect with Debra, you can do so by clicking on her social media links or by visiting the Rutgers Preparatory School websitefb  twitter  insta

 

Sonrisas Feature Teacher honors exceptional teachers who are using the Sonrisas Spanish Curriculum by telling their stories. If you know someone who would be a good candidate for a Sonrisas Feature Teacher, email us at info@sonrisasspanish.com.

 

Fehl photo2Sun  Meet Debra Fehl

Debra has been teaching elementary Spanish at Rutgers Preparatory School in Somerset, NJ for six years. She started her career teaching literature, reading, and writing in grades 7-12. She then worked as an assistant in Pre-K at Rutgers Preparatory School where she learned all about early childhood development from the lead teacher. When the school needed a Spanish teacher, Debra stepped in to fill the position. Debra appreciates the cultural diversity at Rutgers Preparatory School and the fact that the school offers Spanish at the elementary level and five different world languages at the secondary level. Rutgers Preparatory School is the oldest independent school in New Jersey—celebrating their 250th anniversary this year! Debra teaches Spanish in grades K thru 5th with a schedule that goes from teaching twice per week for 30 minutes in the early grades to teaching three to five times per week for 45 minutes in the upper grades.

Book  How Sonrisas Spanish is Effective for Debra

Debra appreciates the organization of the Sonrisas Spanish Curriculum. She likes how each lessons spells out which songs to sing, which books to read, and which projects to do. She finds it helpful that the curriculum explains how to teach the different segments of the lessons, such as Circle Time, and she likes how the curriculum connects to methodologies such as teaching to the multiple intelligences. Debra uses Sonrisas Spanish 100% for her early grades and implements different parts of the curriculum for her upper grades. Her favorite part of the curriculum is the music and the books which she uses with all her classes—she enjoys repeating the songs through all the grades and believes that this repetition is helpful for her students. For Debra, the Sonrisas Spanish curriculum has been easy to apply and easy to adapt.

lightbulb4  Teaching Tips from Debra

Debra uses puppets or stuffed animals to engage her students in conversation. For example: she will have her young students greet a puppet and introduce themselves to it using the phrase, “Hola Señor Plátano, me llamo ___.” She repeats this activity for up to six months until her students have mastered this very practical language usage. Debra also uses a mystery box to practice vocabulary with her students. They get to pull an object out of the mystery box, and then they say, “Yo tengo ___.” Debra emphasizes that she tries to keep her classes as fun as possible. She believes that speaking a new language can be intimidating for students, so she tries to make it as enjoyable and comfortable for them as she can.

heart4  What Inspires Debra

Debra is inspired by getting to watch children of all ages learn a new language through play and music. She says, “I get to set the tone for them, for years to come, that learning a new language and culture is fun and exciting, and it opens new doors for them.” Debra truly gets a lot of pleasure out of watching how much children can enjoy learning—and that inspires us.

If you would like to connect with Debra, you can do so by clicking on her social media links or by visiting the Rutgers Preparatory School websitefb  twitter  insta

 

Sonrisas Feature Teacher honors exceptional teachers who are using the Sonrisas Spanish Curriculum by telling their stories. If you know someone who would be a good candidate for a Sonrisas Feature Teacher, email us at info@sonrisasspanish.com.

 

spanish curriculum for kidsSpanish for preschoolers and elementary school Spanish curricula are becoming more and more popular in the U.S. and for good reason. In today’s day and age, most people realize and accept that learning a foreign language is vastly easier for those that start young as opposed to people who don’t try picking it up until later in life. On top of that, children who speak a second language can typically learn a third language even faster. Starting a Spanish curriculum for kids before the age of 10 is great, but if you can expose them to it even earlier than that — all the better.

According to a new study reported by TheConversation.com, at just 11 months of age babies might not be able to speak or learn words, but they can process and differentiate between different language sounds. The study used a noninvasive technology to study brain activity called magnetoencephalography (MEG) to study brain activity in babies from monolingual and bilingual families/environments. Overall, more than two-thirds of the world’s children are bilingual, but in the U.S., only 17% of the total population speaks a second language in addition to English, according to the Summer Institute of Linguistics.

What they found was that a baby’s brain can become attuned to specific languages before they turn one year old. Babies that were born into bilingual Spanish and English speaking families could process the sounds of both languages equally, proving it wasn’t just coincidental noise that the monolingual babies were responding to.

If you don’t live in an area that offers foreign language for younger children, it might be time to start thinking about a homeschool Spanish curriculum. While it might seem unfeasible for families that are not naturally bilingual to start a baby on a Spanish curriculum for kids, this is just another important study that lends credence to the fact that earlier is better when it comes to learning a foreign language.

The benefits of a Spanish curriculum for kids doesn’t end at learning the actual language itself either.

“Research has found that bilingual adults and children show an improved executive functioning of the brain — that is, they are able to shift attention, switch between tasks and solve problems more easily,” wrote Naja Ferjan Ramirez, the lead research scientist on the study from the University of Washington. “Bilinguals have also been found to have increased metalinguistic skills (the ability to think about language per se, and understand how it works).”

If a smart baby is something you want for your child (and really who doesn’t?), a great way to start is by introducing any other kids you may have to a Spanish curriculum for kids and have them grow up in an environment where they will be exposed to it daily.

One of the things that we talk about a lot here at Sonrisas Spanish is how learning a second language is a long-term endeavor. Many parents and administrators have the expectation of seeing results right away simply by putting their child in a Spanish class or making an elementary Spanish curriculum available. Teachers know the truth—that learning a second language takes time, consistent effort, and lots of repetition. The Sonrisas Spanish Curriculum provides an effective program in which preschool and elementary students acquire Spanish naturally with consistent instruction, age-appropriate activities, and lots of repetition. As you have been teaching this year, you have probably been moving forward through your lesson plans, adding new activities during Circle Time and dropping others that you did closer to the beginning of the school year. April is great time to start reviewing.

Look back on your lessons from earlier in the year to see if there are activities that you can begin to integrate back into Circle Time for review. Your students will welcome these activities as they are familiar, and they offer students the opportunity to use their prior knowledge. Don’t be hesitant to lengthen the duration of Circle Time in order to incorporate this review. A common practice for us in our own classes is to periodically take a day and do only Circle Time for an entire class—an entire class of singing, conversation, games, and activities—all in Spanish. In doing this, we are able to see the results of our long-term effort and realize that our students know a lot of Spanish. This is best practice—it gives you perspective and helps you to remember the big picture. Happy teaching!

spanish curriculumIt’s well-established that starting a child on an elementary or preschool Spanish curriculum can go a long way in their ability to develop the language more effectively later in life. Before the age of 10 — or even at five-years-old — seems to be ideal. Unfortunately, despite this bit of common knowledge, there are some who are actually going the opposite way and advocating eliminating Spanish curriculum’s in favor of more modern classes.

There has been a lot of talk in recent weeks about the idea of replacing foreign languages, like Spanish curriculum for kids, with computer coding classes. This discussion was unquestionably spurred when the Florida Senate decided to pass legislation on Feb. 24 that allows high school students to take computer coding classes in lieu of their foreign language requirements, according to OpposingViews.com.

While learning a valuable skill like computer coding is certainly an admirable and practical route in today’s day and age, it should not be at the expense of foreign languages for public or homeschool Spanish curriculums. That is to say, learning these things should not be thought of as a zero-sum game.

This country is already behind when it comes to being multi-lingual. Over two-thirds of the world’s children are bilingual, but only 17% of the entire U.S. population can speak a second language in addition to English, according to the Summer Institute of Linguistics. This kind of legislation and way of thinking will only widen this gap.

The fact of the matter is that, logically, something needs to be swapped out in order to allow coding to fulfill a graduation requirement. For some reason policy makers have decided that foreign language is the answer when in reality the two disciplines are drastically different.

“Computers and the code that powers them are literal, emotionless, strict, and free of nuance and ambiguity. Human language is anything but,” is how Software engineer Valerie Woolard put it in a recent Vice piece.

One of the interesting solutions brought up for this conundrum is the possibility of instead exchanging math classes, such as Algebra II, that teach children information that’s rarely (if ever) used by the majority of people in the real world.

Learning foreign languages is a crucial part of human development, both intellectually and socially, and should not be so carelessly cast aside. Besides, keep in mind that bilingual employees earn about 20% more than their monolingual counterparts, on average.

preschool spanish lessons Mid-February, an interesting thing happened: The New York Times launched a Spanish version of its existing website. While the website will be based out of Mexico City, the majority of its readership will likely be U.S. residents. Today, the U.S. has one of the largest populations of Spanish-speaking residents — ranking only behind Mexico.

This launch may have flown under the radar of many news outlets, but it represents a larger shift occurring in the U.S.. The country is becoming increasingly bilingual, and young children now benefit from dual language exposure that will help them secure jobs as adults.

The Importance of Spanish for Preschoolers
Up until age eight, children’s brains are geared toward learning language through repetition, imitation, games, and songs. This period of early development is critical for laying the groundwork for language skills. After age eight, children lose the ability to process and imitate new sounds they once had. It won’t be impossible to learn a language, but it will be much harder.

Preschool Spanish Lessons are Engaging and Fun
Because children at this age are so receptive to language, it’s easy to engage them through a wide variety of activities and discussions. A complete curriculum that uses Spanish story books, music lessons, and more to foster language learning is ideal, as opposed to a single period each day where children are encouraged to practice rote memorization — a tactic frequently employed in middle school and high school lessons. Preschool Spanish lessons ensure that children get hands on experience with language in a natural and immersive way.

Prepare Now for Better Chances Tomorrow
It’s not a matter of “if” your child will encounter Spanish as an adult, it’s a matter of “how often.” Anyone job searching today, especially in cities with larger Hispanic populations, will notice that candidates with fluency in Spanish are often preferred. Being bilingual will give any child more options in the future, and statistics indicate that bilingual employees typically earn 20% more than their monolingual colleagues.

A preschool Spanish curriculum is a good investment for any parent looking ahead to the challenges and opportunities tomorrow brings.

Feeling Unsettled About a Trend

When I was in high school I placed third in a state-wide essay contest by writing a paper that argued all the reasons why two years in French or Spanish was not an adequate foreign language offering at our high school. I argued that students should be able to take at least three years of Spanish or French. Now, at the same high school, students can take as many years as they want of various world languages through an online program. And yet, if they want to study a second language with a fluent, living, human teacher, their only choice is Spanish for two years—less than they offered twenty-eight years ago when I wrote my essay. This seems to represent a trend in second language instruction.

It’s easy to see why this trend is happening. Now students can go to a computer lab and take an “interactive” video or computer-based course for literally pennies on the dollar that it would take to hire a qualified teacher. These programs advertise well. Administrators at schools K-12 are presented with advertising materials that sound amazing: “innovative,” “immerse students in language and culture,” “language-learning anywhere, anytime, from any device,” “you don’t need any prior Spanish knowledge for your students to effectively use the program,” and my personal favorite, “A name you know, a brand you trust.”

It occurred to me more than once that this unsettled feeling this trend gave me may indeed be sour grapes. As an elementary Spanish teacher for 20+ years, perhaps I am obsolete. My confidence was further compromised because I am not a native speaker, and indeed, most of the videos available use the voices of native speakers. Maybe students can learn better from a computer or a video. Or maybe I could improve the quality of my teaching by creating a “blended learning environment” for my students. I decided to sit down at my computer and “try a sample lesson.” I was met with a two-dimensional cartoon animal floating in a two-dimensional world, speaking in stilted “comprehensible input.” This was the “engaging, immersion in foreign language” that was advertised on the company’s website.

Without being able to put my finger on why, I decided not to incorporate video or interactive computer programming into my teaching. After all, my students were already engaged in an immersion environment. I knew they loved Spanish class, and most important, they were understanding and speaking Spanish. No, they weren’t learning from a native speaker, but nevertheless, they were learning Spanish.

Recently, I was hit with an “aha” moment. All of the sudden I had the answer to why my gut told me not to shift into a “blended learning” model as a teacher. It went deeper than everything I had read and learned at conferences about immersion, native speakers, comprehensible input, foreign language standards, and all the research-based lingo about effective foreign language teaching. It dug down deeper than all of this into the nature of language itself. What is language? I realized that every human being has an innate understanding of what language is— even if they speak only one language—and, the fundamental qualities of language that we all understand innately, are truths.

A Living, Dynamic Exchange

The first Merriam-Webster definition of language is: “the system of words and signs that people use to express thoughts and feelings to each other.” In order for language to have meaning, it must have a receptive audience. When human beings communicate, we accompany words with gesture, animation, tone, facial expression, and eye-contact. The quality of these characteristics all shift depending on our audience. Our tone changes dramatically when we speak to an acquaintance as opposed to a family member. If you listen to two teenagers speak to each other, the vocabulary and gesture of speech are radically different than a student-to-teacher exchange. As speakers of language, we constantly scan the body language of our audience and adjust the quality of our communication to match our audience. When we sense an engaged, eager listener, we forge ahead confidently. When we see a skeptical frown, we may pause and ask for input from the listener to make sure that our communication is effective.

We have created all kinds of fillers that we put in our language to check the quality of our exchange. As someone tells a story or explains something to us we show that we are following them by interjecting: “mm-hmm,” “yeah,” “sure,” “right.” These all affirm our understanding and encourage the speaker to continue. If we are speaking, and we aren’t sure how effective our communication is we might say, “you know what I mean?” or “does that make sense?” or simply, “you know?” These are all phrases built into our exchange that cue the other party in the exchange to the effectiveness of communication. We have just as many cues that we give each other to convey when communication is not effective. For example, we might furrow our brow in confusion or interject, “wait, what?” or “would you repeat that?” In this way we cue each other to the effectiveness or lack of effectiveness in our linguistic exchange of information.

In fall 2014 I attended the ACTFL conference in San Antonio, TX. I went to several workshops, many very useful and educational. One workshop, however, stood well above and beyond every other experience I had at the conference. It was led by a woman named Darcy Rogers who founded an organization called OWL (Organic World Languages). After a short presentation she asked all of the attendees to join a breakout session with an OWL-trained teacher. She encouraged everyone to join a workshop in a language they had never studied. I ended up in a Swedish workshop. Through a series of dynamic activities, the teacher quickly observed what language exchanging opportunities were alive in this group of 30+ strangers. In less than twenty minutes, I had shared greetings with several strangers. When we exchanged names, the workshop leader seized upon the fact that my name is also a color to engage us all in a conversation about “what items are blue in our circle?” Sooner than later, in Swedish, I was telling my neighbor to my left that the woman to my right was named Edith, and she was wearing a blue scarf. This entire process happened without a single word of English spoken between anyone.

Afterwards, the workshop leader took questions is English. She had been teaching college Spanish in this method for several years, and she was getting measurable results. Her students were outperforming their peers on standardized language tests, and she wasn’t using a Spanish college textbook. The key, she said, “was recognizing what language was alive in the group.” In a group of strangers, the natural starting point was greetings and names, easily communicated through gesture. From there she was able to follow the natural progression of communication by tapping into what was alive in our conversation. In this case, it was a name that was also a color that provided the springboard for her communication. You certainly couldn’t write that into a textbook lesson.

Remembering the quality of this experience was a part of my “aha” moment. It was part of my affirmation to myself that my role mattered in my Spanish class. Curriculum is of course still important, and for my elementary Spanish curriculum, I use Sonrisas Spanish (I am the co-author). It systematically works through useful language concepts and provides opportunities for meaningful exchange of language. There is nothing stagnant, two-dimensional, one-sided, or stilted about the quality of language exchange in my classroom. The curriculum is a framework; not a script. I understand now that the effectiveness of my teaching relies most heavily on my very human engagement in the process of communicating with my students.

Another resource that contributed to my “aha” moment was a video (that I highly recommend) that I watched in a Ted Talk from 2010 by Patricia Kuhl, entitled “The Linguistic Genius of Babies.” It’s a fascinating study in baby brain development. In summary, researchers take babies and expose them to a second language (in the study, the babies are from English-speaking families, exposed over the course of six months to twelve sessions with a Taiwanese woman who interacts with the babies solely in Taiwanese.) At the end of the six months they test the babies’ brain activity to determine if the babies’ brains are taking language statistics in Taiwanese as effectively as English. The answer was yes. Then they conducted the same study, exposing the babies to the same woman’s voice, the same number of sessions, over the same period of time. The only difference is that in the second study the voice is coming through a television screen, and in the third, the voice is recorded and played in earphones. When they test the babies at the end of six months, these babies had no ability whatsoever to take language statistics in Taiwanese. They draw the conclusion that it takes interaction with a human being for the baby to take language statistics in a new language. This study affirms the nature of language being inherently connected to the living, dynamic exchange between human beings. The woman, who was physically and emotionally present with the babies, was able to make eye contact and to adjust her body language, her tone, and her gestures to engage with the babies. Something in the woman’s physical engagement lit up the region for sound development in the babies’ brains. I have seen this happen again and again with my students who have ranged in ages between two and fourteen. This living, dynamic exchange must be present for effective communication.

Choosing Effective Materials

I have decided to stop doubting that feeling in my gut that tells me that the role of live human beings in second language acquisition can’t be conveniently replace with a video or a computer program. With clarity and confidence, I share what aspects of second language-teaching materials provide the most effective learning experience for students. If you find yourself in a school that is being seduced into the money-saving world of online language learning, and you feel in your gut that this is a step backwards, I feel your pain! I encourage you to share the Ted Talk, the OWL Languages website, and this blog with your administrator. If you have been put in charge of creating or purchasing curriculum materials for your school, choose a curriculum with components and resources that provide a catalyst for allowing communication to take the form that is alive in your students. These can include:

●       rich, well-written, beautifully illustrated books. I have always used children’s literature to teach Spanish. One may argue that reading a book to students is no different in the quality of linguistic experience than students would receive from watching a video. I argue to the contrary. I choose books that I love—books that invite the reader into another world. As I read, I use gesture and tone to bring life to the author’s words. I watch my students, and I know immediately from the looks on their faces if they are feeling the same delight that I feel. If I sense confusion, or disengagement, I can adjust my communication on the spot to meet their needs. A video does not provide this kind of engagement, but rather it provides an opportunity for students and teacher to disengage. There is no opportunity for a living, dynamic exchange of language in a video.

●       images, paintings, drawings, and photographs that invite dialogue, opinions, sympathies, and antipathies. These can include storybook illustrations, art projects, and classroom posters. I avoid graphics that appear as if an illustrator was hired to create a cartoon image that one imagines will appeal to a child. I think we all know the stock style to which I am referring. These images lack gesture, tone, or depth of interpretation. When an artist creates something from the heart, we feel it. It doesn’t have to be complex to provide this quality. These images provide the student with a rich context for language, and their open-ended quality provides teachers with an opportunity for a living, dynamic exchange.

●       games and activities that have infinite possibilities to evolve, twist, and turn into living, dynamic exchanges of language.

●       student-created art projects that provide students with a creative, hands-on connection to language concepts and that invite a living, dynamic exchange of language.

Part of what makes the Sonrisas Spanish Curriculum so effective is that it includes all of these components. My word of caution in evaluating elementary school and preschool Spanish curriculum materials is to avoid materials that claim to provide a platform to teach language effectively “without any prior knowledge of the target language.”  These materials lack the open-ended opportunity for a living, dynamic exchange of language. Look for materials that provide a framework for you to bring out the language that is already alive in your classroom. Unfortunately for the students currently enrolled in my high school, they find themselves in a predicament where they have less effective second language-learning opportunities than I had twenty-eight years ago. I hope that this trend reverses and that someday my argument for three years of Spanish and French seems inadequate because the school district has implemented a teacher-led, K-12 world language or immersion program which provides for a living, dynamic exchange—because that is in fact how students acquire a second language.

Blue Lindner is co-founder of Sonrisas Spanish and co-author of the Sonrisas Spanish Curriculum. She has bee a Spanish teacher for twenty years.