Monday, March 20, 2017

Meaningful Minutes: Foreign Language - Spanish

I apologize for skipping everything last week.  We were sick and then my older boys and I went to Mexico with the Rohi Foundation.  It was a great experience and I think we will be annual spring breakers there.  It reminded me how crucial it is to get to know another language.  I am not going to argue that 15 minutes a week will make you fluent.  However, 15 minutes is better than nothing!  If you start at a young age it does add up.

There are lots of theories and questions about languages.
    Which one should I start with?
    Should I focus on spoken or written language?
    What if I don't speak the language?

Here are my two cents on the subject.

   Start with the one that you know or feel will be the most useful.  Especially if you are using a Romance language - once they know one - they can more easily pick up the next.  If you think that Mandarin is up and coming - go for it.  I would wait for Latin (after many attempts to do otherwise) until kids are a little bit older - 9 or 10 at least.

   You won't become fluent by spending a few minutes a week on it.  Prior to the last 30 or 40 years most often the classroom objective (often in middle and high school) was writing and reading which can be mastered in a classroom in two or three years fairly well.  There was no delusion that sitting in class was going to transform you into a fluent speaker.  My mom took French from an early age and they did it all orally until about 7th grade and then they introduced the written word.  If you have young ones - this is what I would recommend.  The younger they are the more I would focus on the oral language.

   There are TOO many resources out there to help you with pronunciation and oral input to let your personal inability be a barrier.  This is a great thing to learn (or re-learn) along with your kids.  It will help you remember just how difficult it is to learn something new - keeps you humble.

Here are some Spanish resources that I enjoy:

Salsa - This is a series of Sesame Street like episodes that are all in Spanish but use common stories like "Little Red Riding Hood."   It's free and the videos are about 20 minutes long.

Getting Started With Spanish - This is a SLOW but thorough introduction to the language.  All of the audio files are on the website so you can listen for free.

Madrigal's Key to Spanish - I took four years in high school and using this book helped me remember quite a bit.  I think it could be used with middle and high schoolers.  She also has See It and Say It in Spanish (which I own but haven't used as much) and a Conversational Course (more traditional introductory textbook for older students).  

Cathy Duffy has tons of reviews of different Spanish Courses available.  I have been tempted to get The Learnables many times but haven't done it yet.  If you want a grammar based approach for your late elementary student I think Spanish for Children is probably a solid program.  We have Song School Spanish and like it (here are coloring pages for all the words learned - I printed them four to a page and now have flashcards and could make them into matching game, etc.).

If you have young children and a bit of background yourself you can use The Bilingual Book of Rhymes, Songs, Stories and Fingerplays.  This book has it all - except a CD to help with pronunciation.   You can also just use picture books that you would use with your 2 year old if you have a background in the language - Brown Bear, Brown Bear . . . , Red Hat, Green Hat, etc.  These books use the pictures to tell the story so that kids can associate the words with the picture and NOT the English word.  It is best to avoid translation as much as possible - pictures are much better.

The best situation is if you have a native speaker who can come play, read and sing with your children at least once a week (or more if possible).  This can make a huge impact - but isn't always easy to arrange.  Even if you just learn a phrase or a few words a week you can really make strides over time.  Try to use them as you go throughout your day.

For someone else's take on teaching a foreign language at home take a listen.  The Gouin series was a popular method used to encourage conversational speaking in the early 1900's.  This is a pretty good overview of it and a modern adaptation of the method.

I know there are many more resources out there (song CDs ,videos and more).  These are ones I am familiar with that might not be as widely known as others. I'd love to hear something you have tried out in your home.

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