Tips for New Students

As there are new students in nearly every grade level in Lower School this year, please be assured that your child is not the only one adjusting to being immersed in a brand new language three times a week.  Several of you have expressed concern and inquired about extra work that your children can do outside of class to ‘catch up’ to their peers, hence this blog entry!

To begin, I believe strongly in cultivating a love for learning–and specifically, language-learning–which means that I would like any extra work outside of class time to be more enjoyable than not.  Therefore, just jump in, as the image above illustrates. My number one suggestion for new students is to check out this website and spend time watching cartoons in the target language, so that they feel more comfortable being immersed in the language (see “Cartoons” on the sidebar). The goal right now is for your child to overcome his/her discomfort with not being able to comprehend everything.  Aside from that, new students are also strongly encouraged to be proactive during class time, both by watching when I point to bilingual signs as well as asking their classmates questions (“How do you say…?”).  I am going to reiterate to ALL classes next week (in English!) the importance of teaching one another, particularly since we have a lot of new students this year. I believe in building a classroom culture where students learn not only from me but also from each other.

As far as specific suggestions go, many students in Lower School are familiar with and adore the show Pocoyo.  Have “Spanish Saturdays” or “Taco Tuesdays”, where your child spends twenty or thirty minutes listening to and watching Spanish cartoons. (If any links don’t work, please let me know; I have to update them from time to time. Or, if your child has a favorite show not on the list, email me and I will try to find a translated version.)  Your child does not need to ‘do’ anything here, just sit and be with the language; his/her brain will begin internalizing the rhythm and cadence of the language on its own, unconsciously.  For more ideas, please see the “Summer Packet Letter” on the sidebar.

While it is true that other students have been taking Spanish for many years now, I have repeatedly seen new students at every grade level exhibit tremendous success in the past (this is my ninth year teaching). Give it some time (it is very early in the year!), and encourage your child to be patient, ask questions, and practice being ‘okay’ with not understanding everything. The vocabulary will come. I do not pressure students to produce language until they are ready, and remind them that babies do not speak on Day #2 out of the womb; language takes time.

Other Thoughts

A Conscious Effort: Use Spanish as much as possible, wherever you go. Make it a game. Are you waiting in line? At the mall? At the grocery store? Online waiting for a website to load? In a traffic jam? Train your brain to use those ten second blips of nothingness to be productive and stay mentally active. Try to remember a word or phrase–or several–in the target language while you are waiting. A minute here or there will prove much more effective in long-term retention than an hour or two of studying. When your skills begin to advance, work on translating what you hear in your head. Learning a language might be a challenge, but it should be a fun challenge! Make a conscious effort to incorporate Spanish into your daily life.

Bilingual Technology: Fiddle around and change your iPod, iPad, iPhone, Facebook page, laptop, email or any other gadget you may have to Spanish. You can usually find the languages under “Settings”, “International”, or “Control Panel”. Note: Only change your technological devices to Mandarin Chinese if you have some spare time on your hands and a lot of patience–sometimes it can be tricky finding your way back to English. (And yes, I do say this from experience.)

Spanish Channel: Find the Spanish channel on your television.  For that matter, find the Portuguese and Italian and Russian and Mandarin Chinese channels, too.  See if you can hear the different cadences/rhythms/intonations between the languages.  Most importantly, have fun guessing!

Number Challenges: Count to twenty in Spanish when you’re brushing your teeth every morning.  Too easy?  Count backwards.  Still too easy?  Skip count forwards and backwards (0-2-4-6-8-10-12, 11-9-7-5-3-1, etc.). Do mental math.   Don’t just memorize numbers in order; make them meaningful.  How do we use numbers in the real world?  Count change in Spanish, say the total of the restaurant bill in Spanish, jump rope or play hopscotch in Spanish.  Numbers are everywhere…!

Three Levels: 1) Recognition: you can’t remember the word, but when you see or hear it, you know what it means; 2) Production: you remember the word in both English and Spanish, and can translate it on the spot; 3) Emotional connection: you not only know the word in English and Spanish, but you also understand it…when you say it, you mean it and aren’t just translating (example: please = poooor faaaaaavvvoooooooor)

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