child's written spanish words on paper

by Wendy V. Ash

It depends on how it was taught.

I remember having a conversation with a Spanish teacher at my daughter’s preschool when she was returning to school in the Fall. She sighed and said “They just lose so much over the summer, it’s hard to get them back on track.” I began thinking to myself “Why MUST it be this way, and what is the workaround?”. The answer comes back to my same theory again and again. Too many think traditionally, adhere and align to the English curriculum being taught during the school year. They lose sight of the fact that these children are acquiring a second language for a minimal amount of time a week. It is crucial that they retain the most useful and basic vocabulary used conversationally. This is what makes our program successful with children who are learning to SPEAK Spanish. While it’s difficult to describe all the nuances of my method, I often term it as “relevant retention”.

If children do not learn Spanish words that are directly relevant to their environment, lifestyle and surroundings, their passive  and active vocabulary doesn’t stand a change to be triggered. What do I mean by this? Children who are taught every zoo animal, how to count to 20, and every color in the rainbow may seem impressive. However, I doubt they will see an alligator or zebra in their neighborhood or need to explain that a flower is fuchsia or violet. They may see a banana, but which is easier for them to learn and retain… “banana” or “plátano”? I’m certainly not saying that children shouldn’t expand on their vocabulary, but little learners acquiring a second language need the absolute basics and constant repetition. Otherwise, they don’t stand a chance of building a foundation of words they have retained to move on to more sophisticated vocabulary.

One of the lessons I send them off with prior to summer is a beach lesson and in the future I will include a pool lesson. I’m hoping that when they see “el sol” in the sky, when their friend “nada”, or catch “un pez” they will recall the word and remember it, or better yet USE it.

I will leave you with a little Spanish joke for you Spanish-speakers that the older students loved and is a good example of how we incorporate homonyms while making it fun:

“¿Qué hace un pez desempleado?”
“¡NADA!”

Enjoy the last weeks of summer… and summer squash!

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