**TAKEAWAY: Integrate as much Spanish language and culture into your summer as possible! Surround your family with the language!
Longer Version – Summer Packet
My Dear Friends, Fellow Linguists, and Citizens of the World:
When I first saw the image at the top of this page, I honestly thought it was Colorado. [I’ve never been to Colorado, so I don’t know why I would think that.] But no! As luck would have it (as a Spanish teacher), it is Bariloche, Argentina–a famous crossing between the Andes Mountains of Chile and Argentina, known for its decadent chocolate and Switzerland-like vibe.
Although a different locale (and continent), the picturesque mountains are reminiscent of my childhood summers in the north: scents of wildflowers permeating the air, running and rolling through fields, climbing boulders, collecting milkweed and Queen Anne’s Lace, and not going inside until dinner time.
I love these memories. And while a “Summer Packet” might seem quite the antithesis of summer to students, I don’t want it to be. My Spanish classes are playful because my students are naturally playful: they are children! I want their language experience to mirror–to some degree–their pastimes and hobbies. I want them to play. Play with thoughts, play with words, play with expression, play with accents, play with sounds, play with ideas.
If you haven’t guessed yet, the focus for this year’s summer packet is PLAY! Let’s get the skinny on our three main categories.
Part 1: Resources (~parents)
Did your children just say they were bored? Encourage them to think about their favorite parts of the past school year, and extend some of those ideas.
Did they really enjoy music class? Make a band with plastic spoons, toilet paper roll rainsticks, and oatmeal container drums! Did Space Day inspire them? Pretend to be an astronaut! Designate each room of the house as a different planet. Did they love a specific song from Spanish class? Click on the grade level pages below, find the link, and play it on loop!
If they are stuck, note that each link below has resources by grade level of songs and culture projects your child has worked on in Spanish class, as well as Quarter Summaries of the year. Don’t just sit there: get inspired! Need linguistic motivation? Read THIS ARTICLE!
To read about my professional interests, click HERE.
Part 2: Language
LEVEL 1: Surround your family with the language! HERE are a few easy suggestions on how to do this.
LEVEL 2: After you are surrounded with Spanish (input), you can progress to output. This summer, I have a deceivingly simply task for students: use and apply the language they already know. In other words, speak Spanglish! I don’t mean for students to do this one day; I want them to try and incorporate the language they know as much as possible throughout the summer while they are playing.
They could do this systematically, where each day they add another word; for example, they have to respond, “Sí” (yes) in Spanish instead of in English–and whoever says, “yes” first, has to put a penny in a jar or something like that. And then keep adding another word or phrase each week. Or say, “Buenos días” (good morning) at breakfast, and pair the language with daily routines. Or, they could just cram in language wherever it fits, if they don’t care to be systematic.
Trying to figure out the Spanish Wordle is another great way to get in some Spanish each day. If this feels too difficult, commit to listening to at least one song in Spanish every day.
I created a highly visual cultural guide this year for students, which touches on all of the 21 Spanish- speaking countries. Scroll through the photos, and when you find one you like, click on it: it will bring you to a page on my site that explains more about the image. For more information organized by country, visit the Travel Guide page.
Now take this information, and DO something with it! Did you click on the Radish Festival (Mexico)? Have a radish picnic! Make a beautiful display of them on a plate. Ask your parents to help cut them out into creative shapes. You can go out and buy materials for a project if you really want, but–[unless it’s food in a specific RECIPE]–it’s more fun to look around and use what you have! Last but not least, be sure to decorate a window of your bedroom with pictures of your favorite Spanish- speaking country.
Many thanks to first graders, who serenaded me with the classic hit, “It’s Raining Tacos” last week in Spanish class, as we were going over the weather report. Little did I know, the English version of this song has over 63 million views. I am clearly late to the fiesta!
Regardless, this is a hilarious song whenever you find it. I synced the Spanish audio with the original graphics by ParryGripp to make it more relatable to students. If you are a Spanish teacher and want to extend this, your class could brainstorm all of the things they would love it to rain, and then listen to the more authentic classic, Juan Luis Guerra’s “Ojalá que llueva café” (I hope it rains coffee).
There has been a buzz around school this week about pop singers, mostly because a celebrity superstar will be performing in a nearby city soon. I love to tap into students’ interests, and actually used to have a hobby of finding both Spanish and multilingual covers–or, adaptations–of pop songs. It’s pretty incredible how translated songs can have the same sound and feel as the originals. And when I say “multilingual” here, I am referring to when they switch languages every 3-4 seconds, such as in this version of Frozen (animated) and/or Behind the Mic (actual singers).
As a result, I wanted to share a list of songs in Spanish with everyone. The beginning of the list are pop songs; farther down are popular animated movie songs (like from Encanto, The Jungle Book, Aladdin, etc.). This is solely for enrichment purposes and to change up your playlists. Please use your own family’s discretion when listening; there is nothing explicit, but I recognize that everyone has different values.
Before PK4 enters my classroom each day, we sit in the hallway and say together in a sing-songy voice, “¡Yo hablo español!” (I speak Spanish), like the other grade levels do. We might chit-chat about this or that, but eventually put our hands in the middle (similar to a sports huddle), and shout, “¡Vamos!” (let’s go!).
Today was a special day and the culmination of several lessons: we went to Spain! Now, before I explain why we went there, let me point out that this process involved several steps. First, PK4 students chose where they were living on my carpet–in a red house? or a blue house? or maybe a green one? It’s a nice neighborhood, don’t you think? Could use some trees, though.
We started this a few weeks ago, but yesterday I was in a rather silly mood, so we said that the yellow lines represented the “roof” of the house. Who is sitting on el techo/ the roof of their house today?! You never really know what will become “a thing” with four-year-olds, but this did, and we ended up spending way too much time drawing on the board (stick-figure style), deciding who was inside the house and who was sitting on the rooftop.
The teacher part of me did this for two reasons: one, to have defined spaces on the carpet where students sit, and two, to begin teaching colors in context (don’t get too comfy with rojo/red! Sometimes it’s roja or rojas or rojos! E.g., una casa roja/ a red house). The rooftop piece was about directionals and spatial relationships. Or it might have been about the silliness that ensues when Pato turns on the “rain and thunderstorm” sound effects on the board, and everyone “rushes inside their houses” to avoid the fake agua/water. Teeheehee. I digress.
So after we talked about the casas/ houses, students built cozy 3D versions of them with chairs and blankets. They rested up, listening to a favorite from last year on loop– Los solecitos. But daylight came much too early: before we knew it, the tren/train was about to leave the station, which meant that we had to hustle, quickly packing a snack (comida/ food), their backpacks (that they had brought to class today for the special occasion), a stuffed animal from my toy bin, and dinero/ money. Plus scissors and more faux currency to cut out on the way. It’s a long trip, after all.
Now I must admit, there has been some Spanglish this week. Here and there, when I need students to fully grasp a concept (foreign currencies, geography, culture projects, etc.), I will incorporate some English/ Spanglish into the lesson. Students knew that we were going to a place called Spain because we had talked about it the other day. I showed PK4 students a map and pointed out how much ocean water is between us and Spain. Once they had that background knowledge, I started slipping back into Spanish– We’re going to Spain! We’re going to España! ¡Vamos a España! Yipee!
We took the train to the coast (teachers pushing tables on wheels across the room, with students and all of their stuff on top), to meet up with Pato on his [Popsicle stick] barco/ boat.
While yesterday I wasn’t certain how to differentiate the train from the boat, today I had a plan. The students stayed on the train as we pushed the two tables-on-wheels together, and voilà: we had a boat. Next, I put a loud ship horn sound effect on loop, along with a video of dolphins jumping. Look!! Dolphins, guys! So cool!! Did you get a picture? We took as many photos as we could on our pretend phones.
A minute after they all started getting antsy about being on the barco/ boat for so long, I said, “LOOK! ¡MIRA! I see land! It’s España!” In the dolphin video, you can see land at certain parts, so I waited until a good moment.
We got off the boat, left my room, walked down the hallway looking for the hotel in Spain, and then walked back to my room and pretended that their newly constructed casas were now, in fact, the hotel.
Phew! It’s amazing what you can do some days in thirty minutes. And what, now? Why did we go to Spain [other than to ascertain that the Popsicle stick boat floats]? Only Pato knows… 🙂
Pato is growing up, and now has his own personal secretary! The Spanish playmusical begins with our stuffed animal duck hero dancing to traditional Spanish music from the 1500’s: a calm, mature tone is established. When the phone rings and his secretary answers, we learn that Oso is calling, but Pato is clearly busy–prancing around, ballet-style (how do pointe shoes work on webbed feet?)–and can’t take a call right now, thank you very much; so Oso decides to try again later.
He waits about five seconds and calls again, but in the meantime, Pato has changed the radio station (or Alexa, or whatever!) and found a catchier tune–conveniently for us, about the phone ringing. Poor Oso listens to the phone ringing as everyone else jumps up for a dance number onstage. The landline is modeled after Salvador Dalí’s famous surrealist sculpture (#culture).
When the secretary finally regains order and answers the phone, Oso claims to be The King of the World, so that he can talk with Pato. There is no way that Patowouldn’t pick up for The King of the World!
After a little chitchat, Pato is invited to Spain with his friends, Oso (Bear), Caballo (Horse), and Pollito (Baby Chick), among others. As they are all stuffed animals IRL (haha), their mode of transportation is a paper airplane, which they get from someone backstage named Javier–this task interrupts the entire play, and Javier is mortified but reluctantly agrees to oblige the characters after he observes Patotrying to [unsuccessfully] fly to Spain in the background. Ay yie yie!
They finally get on the plane, but end up landing in Canada, not Spain. Whoops! It is really cold there, and when a Talking Book starts chatting with them, there is no denying that we have been transported to Stuffed Animal Land. The friends are amazed at the Bilingual Talking Book, but quickly move on to another more pressing matter, when a group of wolves appears in the distance. Oh no!
We break to a Special News Report, commentating on the sad state of affairs, namely, that Pato and friends are surely to meet their end in the face of the ravenous wild creatures. HOWEVER!, Los Lobos (the wolves) are actually a band who perform Para bailar la bamba in a live outdoor concert. (The band name really is Los Lobos, but obviously, it’s a joke, since the band was people and we have “wolves” singing.) The Dancing Pineapple makes his debut as the lead singer at this point–which, no, is not a historical fact.
Following the concert, the friends continue on their way to Spain, but wind up in Cuba. Oh my goodness! Who is driving this plane?! Naturally, Pato confuses bananas with La Habana (the capital of Cuba), and everyone ends up Salsa dancing in the streets. Will they ever get to Spain? Come watch the show to find out!
The day begins sitting outside my classroom in the hallway. “This is English,” I say. “I am speaking in English right now, but when I–*clap, clap*–yo cambio de un idioma a otro [I change from one language to another]. *Clap, clap.* Strange, isn’t it?!“
This game progresses a bit farther each day. We look at our shoes, the colors of our shirts, the spider crawling up the wall. “You say, ‘blue’–clap, clap–yo digo, ‘azul’[I say azul]”. All classes are learning to say, “Yo hablo español” (I speak Spanish), so that we can compare/contrast it with “Yo hablo inglés” (I speak English). After a minute or two of chitchat, we stand up, put our hands in the middle and say, “¡Vamos!” (let’s go!) like we mean it, and then travel into my room. Inside, everything is narrated and taught in Spanish.
Students sit in their assigned seats, and I ask the three-year-olds how they are: ¿Cómo estás? There are funny emoji faces on the board, and they come up one at a time and point to how they are feeling. I acted out the faces very dramatically the first few days for PK3 (feliz/happy, triste/sad, enojado(a)/mad, tengo frío/I’m cold), and we were very silly! So now it is a joke, and they will respond, “enojado(a)” (angry/mad) when I ask them, just to be silly, and with a huge grin on their face.
We move on to a song break at this point, usually one in particular from Encanto, or their newest favorite, Los solecitos(put it on loop!). They can move and dance around here, but some just watch–a bit fixatedly, trying to figure out how it is that the screen speaks the same language their Spanish teacher does. Hmm…
The first few classes, we did a science/ group activity on the carpet following the song. These lessons were sensory-happy, meaning that I brought in a hairdryer to levitate a ping-pong ball and teach the word, “caliente” (hot), and students got to feel the hot-hot-hot air; we melted a few crayons with the heat to “paint” a picture; I brought in ice cubes the next class to contrast and connect with, “frío” from above; and we put white plastic [temperature- activated] spoons in the cold water/ice cubes, which then ‘magically’ turned blue.
After the mini-lesson, students take turns ‘riding’ in my teacher chair (which is on wheels), and I sing a calming song, “Va-mos a España, va-mos; va-mos a Nicaragua, va-mos,” etc. as I push them across the room in the chair. I ring a windchime, we admire the beautiful sound, and then I push them back; but this time I ask if they want to go rápido/fast or not. The answer is, invariably, YES!
As we have settled into this routine, the ideas have started to expand. For example, in lieu of a science lesson et al, someone might say that they are “tired” (cansado/a) during the how-are-you Q&A, so we all take a 10-second nap with the lights off. Then I turn the lights back on, and announce that wow am I hungry. Hey! We should have a picnic! So we go to the carpet with a few blankets on the floor as a table, and pretend to eat the plastic food. I announce that there is a storm coming (I put rain sound effects on the board)–oh no!–so we have to go somewhere else. Then we take the “car rides” to the beach/ la playa or the jungle (la selva/la jungla), and students get to decide which video I put on the screen to enhance the general ambiance–tranquil waves, or howler monkeys in the rainforests of Costa Rica!
When our thirty minutes together is over, we say that the “train” is leaving, and students line up. I’m writing this now a bit out of guilt, because I never know how to put this in a nice, neat lesson plan on Veracross. We do a lot of fun things in Spanish every day, and the lessons are always evolving; but I wanted to give you a quick update before any more time passed. Otherwise, I would have started with the howler monkeys and chair cars two months from now, and you wouldn’t have known what I was talking about!
ASIDE: Your children may or may not bring home Spanish words; do not worry either way. The focus at this point is comprehension and following along in class. If you want to support/ encourage your child’s linguistic journey, feel free to watch cartoons or listen to music in Spanish with them at home. Don’t worry if you don’t understand; just watch/listen and have fun, and their brains will do the rest!
Below are videos I have created for Parents’ Nights in the past few years. Each has its own distinctive flavor and required dozens of hours of editing. Enjoy!
Parents’ Night 2022-23
Language has always been a story for me. You can go macro, the story of the world–or micro, the history of a single word. Or you can travel to another galaxy! With 7,000 languages on our planet, the possibilities are endless. My dissertation actually traced the evolution of the word, “luciérnaga” (firefly/ ‘lou-see-AIR-nah-gah’) in dictionaries, from its first appearance in 1251 through present day.
The definitions varied over the centuries, dependent on our collective scientific and cultural knowledge. Before we knew much of anything about entomology, many believed that those tiny lights flashing on and off in the night were… magic or sorcery. When there was a mini ice age in Europe for a few hundred years, a huge gap ensued: luciérnaga was absent from Spanish dictionaries, presumably because the lightning bugs all traveled closer to the equator, and were no longer a part of daily life.
Point being, I love language(s) and I love sharing my joy for words and communication with students. The cinematography above is meant to emphasize that your children do not merely study language in my class: they live it. They experience words and immersion and culture and all of the things. Words are everywhere, and it is my job to help them discover the magical, linguistic, and/or scientific [however you view language] light and spirit within each child.
The firefly’s light flashes on and off, but it is always there.
My Dear Friends, Fellow Linguists, and Citizens of the World:
Welcome back! As we look forward to the start of another school year, I thought I would share a quick post of frequently asked questions. For any new families, I am the Spanish teacher for grades PK-4.
NOTE: Students typically address me as “Maestra” (‘my-ACE-trah’/teacher) or “Señorita”, but I am also called “Spain” and “Español” (Spanish) from time to time. Feel free to clarify this at home with your child.
I wanted to start here because if there is any conversation that you have with your child(ren) about Spanish class before school begins, please remind them that–much like climbing an enormous staircase or mountain–language-learning is a journey. Fluency does not occur overnight. It is a process where, after many successes, failures, and moments of uncertainty, coupled with much determination, grit, and hard work, progress is made. If your child can learn just one new thing each day in class, they will be well on their way.
What curriculum do you use?
I use a variety of curricula to teach language. From gesture- based storytelling methodologies (such as AIM and TPRS), to culture projects, geography, center work, science experiments, soccer games, theater, and more, we cover a lot of territory in Spanish class. For more info, see THIS PAGE.
ASIDE: You may also hear about “Pato” (duck), a mischievous stuffed animal duck of mine with a big personality (and squeaky voice), who is always on some silly adventure.
How much Spanish do you speak in class?
My goal is to speak Spanish 95-100% of the time; however, I can get sidetracked with sharing cool culture projects in English and adore goofy English/ Spanish wordplays (especially as mnemonic devices to ingrain vocabulary!). This year, we are physically dividing the space, so “English” tidbits will be taught in the hallway outside of my classroom, and everything else inside my room will be in Spanish.
Do you only teach about Spain?
Definitely not! There are 21 official Spanish-speaking countries. Students in grades 1-4 become familiar with these country names and participate in Culture Projects throughout the year.
What can I do at home to help support my child?
Encourage, encourage, encourage!
Point out the names of Spanish- speaking countries on t-shirts tags, fruit stickers, can labels, warranties, manuals, and bilingual signs out in public.
Make/ bake RECIPES from Spanish-speaking countries.
Visit the children’s world language section at the library.
Listen to Spanish tv and radio, for the sole purpose of appreciating foreign sounds– no comprehension necessary.
Change the voiceover on movies to Spanish (and subtitles to English).
Incorporate the language and culture into your daily life!
If I want to learn Spanish alongside my child, what resources do you recommend?
More than anything, learning another language is about developing the habit. Working on an app regularly is a great way to start. Last year, I organized an independent study “Adult Class” for parents and faculty. Feel free to check out those resources and posts HERE.
And last but not least, for anyone wondering why you should learn another language, please read THISfor a hearty laugh.
NOTE: This page is a synopsis of challenges sent to families back in the 2020-2021 school year.
Weekly Language Challenges below.
Watch a movie in Spanish. Change the voiceover to Spanish and the subtitles to English. It is okay if you don’t understand everything! Your brain does a lot of work just by listening. The movie can be one you have seen a thousand times, or a brand new one. Animated films are great!
ASIDE: If you don’t know how to do this, Google “how to change voiceover for [XXXX device/ Hulu/ Netflix/ etc.]”, or play around on the “Settings” page to change the language. You can also search on YouTube for full length movies.
NOTE TO NATIVE SPEAKERS: Fluent Spanish-speakers are welcome to change the voiceover AND the subtitles, and notice the differences in translation. This can be pretty interesting because the translations are often done in different countries. That means that someone might say, “¿Cómo estás?” but the subtitle will read, “¿Qué tal?” (or vice-versa). Food for thought!
Read more here about La Tomatina— a festival that takes place in Spain every August.
Your challenge is to try making GAZPACHO, a cold tomato soup from Spain that is incredibly refreshing on hot summer days. ¡Qué rico!
This week, look at your clothing tags, the sticker labels on your fruits and vegetables, and the labels on cans and other food products, and notice where these things were made and where they came from. For example: clothing “Made in Guatemala”, bananas from Costa Rica, avocados from Mexico, etc. Parents: This can be a great detective game/ activity for your children at the grocery store!
Then, find 3-5 products from Spanish-speaking countries**; or fill in my chart on the following slide (blank chart HERE). Be sure to take a picture of the stickers/tags you find and have your parents email me so that you get credit for your work.
**Spanish-Speaking Countries: Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia, Perú, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Panamá, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, México, Cuba, La República Dominicana (Dominican Republic), Puerto Rico (technically a territory), Spain (España), Equatorial Guinea.
Take 15 minutes and listen to all five of these classic songs that have been translated/ adapted to Spanish (below). Let your child guess which movie it is by LISTENING to the first few chords before watching the video!
Next, vote on which Spanish song translation is your favorite (parents, please email me so that your children will get credit). Note: your favorite song in Spanish might not be the same as your favorite in English, but that’s okay!
Decide what Spanish-speaking country** your bedroom represents, and then decorate a sign for that country and hang it on your door. If you share a bedroom, you can pick two countries! Make sure to spell the name right. HERE is a link to the country flags. Email me a photo to get credit!
Now after dinner you can say, “Bye Mom and Dad, I’m going to Bolivia! See you later/ ¡Hasta luego!” Happy travels!
**Spanish-Speaking Countries: Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia, Perú, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Panamá, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, México, Cuba, La República Dominicana (Dominican Republic), Puerto Rico (technically a territory), Spain (España), Equatorial Guinea.
Plantains appear very similar to bananas, but are not the same food at all: they are starchy and much harder, and cannot be eaten raw. Your challenge is to make tostones or patacones (“tohs-TOE-nays”/ “pah-tah-KOH-nays”, aka plantain chips) to munch on this week. These are a very popular snack in Spanish-speaking countries and really easy to prepare: RECIPE and more info HERE.
This week, the Spanish Challenge is more linguistically oriented: watch the video below, starring the one and only Pato. It is action packed, fast-paced, and well worth 3 minutes and 46 seconds of your time. Email back the answer to this question: who (do you think) actually robbed the bank?
In preparation for Day of the Dead, or El Día de [los] Muertos, you may do one (or both) of the following activities:
Watch the movie Coco in English–or in Spanish with English subtitles–and email me to receive credit. You have to watch it in October for it to count!
Ask your parents or relatives if they have ever traveled to another country. If they have, see if you can find tickets, receipts, foreign currency, brochures, postcards, magnets, or anything else from their trip. Make a decorative box to store all the treasures in. Be sure to interview/ask them all about their trip! What was the weather like? What was their favorite moment there? Did anything surprise them? What language do they speak there?
If your parents or relatives have not traveled abroad, use a decorative box as a “Vision Board”, where you put names and photos of all the places in the 21 Spanish-speaking countries that you would like to visit one day. Note that these cannot simply be country names—they need to be names of specific places in those countries! To complete this challenge, let me know where you have traveled or want to travel to. For those of you who are data-oriented, here is a fun INTERACTIVE MAP to chart where you have visited or want to go. #Wanderlust!
Spanish Challenge #’s 12 & 13
Listen to all three Spanish Christmas songs below, and then send me the name of your favorite. Easy peasy!
Instead of just one Spanish Challenge this week, I am also sending a letter detailing different Christmas and holiday traditions around the Spanish-speaking world. HERE is the link.
Spanish Challenges for the Second Semester
At this point in the year, the entire school started tapping into a Spanish “Culture Project” each week, and I would send home slides and videos about what students were learning. I also included a recipe from each country, as an optional extension of the project at home. Each of the links represents one week:
It all began with a couch. If it hadn’t been for that blue couch, I don’t know what would have happened. You see, when I was small, I used to love to lay upside down on the cushions. I remember how the ceiling and the clock and the trees through the window looked foreign, somehow; everything was different, but it was also the same. Suffice to say, I have always been fascinated by different perspectives. At age 8 or 9, I read Alvin’s Secret Code, a book about spies, codes, and ciphers. I played ‘spies’ all the time after that and would invent my own codes.
This coding practice became a game of substitution when I stumbled onto Spanish class in high school. Little did I know that that was just the beginning. To this day, listening to languages–especially music–I don’t understand simultaneously awakens something in me and allows me to relax.
Many polyglots, or people who speak multiple languages, describe their relationship with languages as, quite literally, a relationship: personally, I am married to Spanish, seriously dating French, had a yearlong fling with both Russian and Mandarin, and have been on a few dates with Arabic and Swahili. I saw Hungarian in a bookstore once and was intrigued, and occasionally flirt with German and Italian on the street.
English and I have a fascinatingly complex but strained relationship. I am ashamed to admit that I cannot identify Swedish no matter how many times we meet out in public. Icelandic is beautiful but way out of my league (read: I can’t pronounce ANYTHING!!!!). I wish I had the opportunity to meet Japanese, Turkish, Greek, and Latin, but we can’t seem to make the long-distance thing work. That said, I have traveled to at least 13 countries now, including Iceland, China, and Argentina, and spent two summers hiking across northern Spain.
Point being, while I certainly don’t know everything, I do have a bit of a background and history with language(s), and therefore feel qualified to speak on the subject. (Then again, cognitive scientist Lera Boroditsky knows quite a bit more.)
If we are going to embark on a serious discussion about language and the brain, it is incumbent upon us to begin with the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis: “a hypothesis, first advanced by Edward Sapir in 1929 and subsequently developed by Benjamin Whorf, that the structure of a language determines a native speaker’s perception and categorization of experience” (source).
This sounds a bit highfalutin, but it basically just taunts linguists with the following question: “Does your language shape or influence how you think?” You might have an immediate answer if you’re the decisive type, or perhaps you never considered the thought. I really don’t know what you’re thinking right now! But let’s take a look at a few different languages and cultures before deciding too definitively. After all, linguists argue about this all the time; it is unlikely that we will solve this query today.
Each of the following images below is a link to a brief article, exploring different perspectives of other languages and cultures. Click on them to explore–they are really interesting, I promise!–and then come back to this page to continue reading. I originally had all of this on one post, but it became too difficult to follow. (#dissertation!)
“The hyperpolyglot is someone who is both a gifted and massive language accumulator. They possess a particular neurology that’s well-suited for learning languages very quickly and being able to use them.” –Michael Erard
IN THE LATE 1500’s, a man named Thomas Coryat decided to hike across Europe. He ended up walking over 2,000 miles and “picking up” 14 languages along the way. He was a talented linguist and considered one of the world’s first backpackers and true tourists. With 14 languages under his belt, he is also considered a hyperpolyglot, or “massive language accumulator”.
In the 1800’s, there are legends that a Cardinal named Mezzofanti was fluent in at least 38 languages. According to linguist Michael Erard, when two prisoners were about to be put to death, Mezzofanti even learned the Lord’s Prayer (“Our Father”) overnight, heard their confessions and offered forgiveness in their language the following day, prior to the executions. Although seemingly impossible, there are numerous accounts of his unbelievable abilities, as well as boxes of flashcards stashed away in the historical archives of a library somewhere in Italy.
Modern-day hyperpolyglots include Timothy Doner, Alex Rawlings, Richard Simcott, Kató Lomb, and Alexander Argüelles, to name a few. All of these hyperpolyglots have different methods and beliefs in terms of how best to learn a language. Some imagine wearing different colored lenses when they study: red-tinted glasses for Chinese, blue for Russian, yellow for Portuguese, and so on and so forth to separate languages and facilitate in code-switching. Others walk through parks shouting unintelligible phrases, over and over again, until far on the horizon, their brain begins to pick apart the sounds, and suddenly, they have discovered a way in the back door.
Some listen to music on loop, ‘downloading’ and memorizing chunks of language, and then searching for translations after the fact, to see what they have learned and where they can apply said lyrics in everyday life. Still others rely on the old standby: the rote, drill and kill grammar of flashcards and verb conjugations. And some don’t necessarily learn the entire language, but have fun playing with accents and imitating foreign sounds (see Diego J. Rivas, SAARA, & Amy Walker). While the latter are not hyperpolyglots, their unique skillsets are certainly admirable.
Both translation and interpretation would seem to be prime examples of how language influences or shapes your thought–that is, when trying to navigate from one language and culture (and frame of reference) to another. I have the utmost respect and admiration for translators and interpreters, but cannot imagine such a task: how could my native or non-native language not influence me?!
If you would like to explore these topics in greater depth, check out the articles below. I spent some time on “Translations Gone Wrong” below for humor/ comic relief, but rushed through this section a bit during the presentation, due to time constraints.
For parents and teachers alike, let’s take a look at how it comes to be that I am able to communicate with you, and you with me. What is going on in the brain? And how, as language educators, can we best approach our lessons so that the information is retained?
Read the articles below for more information. I focused on “Linguistic Development” and “Rate of Speech & Spaced Repetition” during the presentation, but included the post, “When Will My Child Be Fluent?” here because I addressed this in the Q&A at the end with faculty.
There are about 7,000 languages in the world, but it really depends on how you define “language”. For example: do languages that are only spoken (and not written) count? What about dialects or slang? What about endangered languages that only have one or two speakers left– do they count? Suffice to say, there are many factors involved, but 7,000 languages is a fair estimate. How many can you name?
What are the best apps to start learning a new language?
There are a lot of language-learning apps on the market; really, any app that gets you into a habit and routine of practicing another language is useful. For both kids and adults, Duolingo and Memrise are very popular. Busuu and FluentU are also very well-known, but you do have to pay after the free trial. LinguaLift has a detailed commentary on each of apps in the infographic to compare and contrast them. If you are looking more for your child(ren), here is a list of 20+ Spanish Games and Apps for Kids, starting with toddlers. This article has even more ideas: 20 Amazing Apps for Kids in 2022.
Is English the most-spoken language in the world?
No, in real life, English is not the most-spoken language in the world. Chinese is number one, Spanish is number two, and English is number three. Online, however, English dominates the digital world.
**More Frequently Asked Questions and Answers on THIS PAGE.
So, what do you think? Does your language shape or influence how you think? I still cannot answer definitively, but I would tend to lean more towards yes than no. Regardless, if you’ve read this far, you know that language isn’t just a hobby for me. It’s #Obsession.
To put your new perspective taking into practice, try your hand at copying the non-Roman alphabets and languages below.
My Dear Friends, Fellow Linguists, and Citizens of the World:
Summer is a great time to get out of the routine — to refresh and reenergize the mind, body, and spirit. That said, parents frequently ask me what they can do at home to supplement their child’s language study, particularly during the summer months and if they don’t speak the language themselves.
Before getting started, it is important to recognize that reaching a level of true proficiency in a language takes time. As a result, I strongly urge you to make sure that any enrichment activities you do at home are more fun than not: language-learning is a joyous process, and motivated, excited kids will accomplish more than you ever thought possible when they want to do something.
Second, in lieu of babbling on for ninety-seven more paragraphs, I am going to give you a roadmap to my website, so that you can find and explore exactly what you are looking for. If you need an actual roadmap/ travel guide and are planning to visit a Spanish-speaking country, check out THIS PAGE (my latest project, still in its infancy!).
Part 1: Resources
Not sure what your child learned this year in Spanish class? Check out the following links! Each page has resources by grade level of songs/ projects your child has worked on in Spanish class, as well as Quarter Summaries of the year.
To read about my professional interests, click HERE.
Part 2: Language
Input is absolutely CRUCIAL here! If you don’t hear any Spanish, it is very unlikely that you will learn how to speak it. This input can come in countless forms. You can do the same activity every day (e.g., wake up and listen to ONE song in Spanish before breakfast); or keep it fresh, mix it up, and do something different every day. Either way, build the language into your daily routine, so that something feels “off” when you don’t do it. This input can be:
listening to songs, either playing in the background on your device while you do another task, or actively listening for words you know;
watching cartoons/movies or TV shows in your target language (Spanish voiceover with English subtitles);
playing a scavenger hunt out in public, noticing bilingual signs and Spanish translations when you go shopping;
traveling to the library to check out the world language section (go to the kid’s one! the adult one is full of grammar books! boring!! LOL);
traveling virtually —
for a playlist of Scholastic read-alouds in Spanish, click HERE;
for fairy tales in Spanish and English, click HERE;
traveling in real life, either to a Spanish-speaking country or to a restaurant or city with a lot of Spanish speakers.
Part 3: Culture
A friend once taught me that you don’t just learn to speak a language, you also have to learn to speak the culture. Bilingual speakers (and hyperpolyglots, of course) do not merely code-switch; they also culture-switch when bopping between languages. To that end, students can expand their perspective taking in countless ways, including but not limited to the following:
All students can try new foods, either by making homemade recipes or visiting ethnic restaurants;
Wow! There are so many pieces that go into learning another language and culture! If you are looking more for themed activities, feel free to check out the Spanish Summer Packet from last year, LINK HERE.
And if your family would rather focus on, well, Family!, know that as in past years, all activities above are 100% optional. Have a wonderful summer, and I can’t wait to see you in the fall!
Yes, I was that Spanish student who went home and memorized any and every list of vocabulary my teacher gave me. Believe it or not, my nickname in ninth grade was, “Diccionario” (dictionary)! While this system worked for me, I have a slightly photographic memory and enjoy mathematical formulas, so conjugations and the like came more easily than not. This is not to say that I didn’t work hard–because I definitely did–but I would come to class the following day and not understand why my classmates did not even recognize the new words. Or maybe they knew them for the test, but forgot immediately thereafter.
When I became an educator, I remembered those students that had difficulty mastering vocabulary lists and, after learning more about the brain and observing how children process information, decided to eliminate said lists from my classroom.
Families will request from time to time a list of words their child is learning in Spanish class. While I appreciate their interest in the language program, vocabulary lists are just not my style. Students in an immersive environment pick up new words and phrases at different rates and paces. Some speak from day one, while others won’t say anything for months–and then, when you least expect it and have given up all hope, they blurt out a sentence or paragraph. Go figure!
Point being, I want my classroom to be a place where students feel comfortable to take academic risks; the technical term for this is a ‘low-affective filter’. If a [well-intentioned] parent is constantly quizzing their child on vocabulary, many students will start to freeze and clam up, mentally. We are not going for perfection at this point in time–our goal is to communicate basic ideas as efficiently as possible; and I want this process to be as natural as possible. We observe, we quietly assess, we listen, we encourage; but just as with a baby, we don’t pressure students when it comes to linguistic production. They will talk when they are good and ready!
That said, I like lists. I like being organized. And I am extremely interested in what I call linguistic chronology. Generally speaking, we know that babies and toddlers typically say things like, “Mama, Dada, up, down, water, apple” as some of their first words (when learning English, at least). As we are trying to mimic and parallel this natural language acquisition process in my classroom–based on immediate and practical needs and wants–the vocabulary lists I create are constantly evolving.
While I said that I do not send home vocabulary lists, I will give you a glimpse HERE into the type of words and phrases your child is working on. Perhaps the biggest difference here is that they rarely, if ever, see these words in list form; they acquire the vocabulary in meaningful contexts and when working on projects. Moreover, I listen constantly to what students say–to the words they use–and then we take the most practical and versatile phrases and learn the Spanish equivalent.
I know that people–especially language teachers!–can have very strong feelings on this topic, which is fine; but please take a moment to recall your own language learning journey, and whether or not the ‘vocabulary list’ method worked for you and/or your classmates. Are you fluent in another language (from this method)? Are they?
There are moments in your life when you have to make serious decisions. And then there are moments in your life when the PSA (Professional Stuffed Animals) in your classroom have to make serious decisions.
One of the latter waddled along and had to choose this morning.
Let me explain. You see, students in kindergarten have been working hard to learn all of the names of the 21 Spanish-speaking countries. We start in Chile and work our way north, travel a little west to Mexico, sail through the Caribbean, and then fly over to Spain and Equatorial Guinea.
They jump on a “floor map” and say the countries aloud, and we add a new country or two each day. After a while, they get pretty good at it–at which point, I introduce The Timer and we go for both speed and accuracy. Most have mastered South America at this point in the year–Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela–and so recently, we have moved onto the second map, starting with Panama.
This activity is especially challenging for younger children because the majority–understandably–have very minimal background knowledge here; many kindergarteners have never heard the word Mexico before, so they are grappling with a lot all at once (word in English; different pronunciation in Spanish; location on the map; concept of another country; etc.). It is my job to make this information not only accessible, but also memorable to students. Enter Pato, my Professional Stuffed Animal Duck.
Point being, students reached “Panama” on the floor map last class. I love geography and travel, and how we can layer on culture so much more easily when students already have a place in their brains for the names of these Spanish-speaking countries.
Ahem, maestra! F-o-c-u-s! Right. So anyway, Pato started explaining that he LOVES Panama, and when asked why, he proceeded to describe his diet: pan (bread), pan (bread), pan (bread), and more pan (bread). What about special occasions, Pato? ¡Pan y papas fritas! (Bread and french fries.) Oh my.
After a long tangent about how it is pronounced, “pahhhhn” and not “tahhhhn”–ventriloquism requires that certain consonants be slightly mispronounced, so as not to move the lips. P’s become t’s, m’s become n’s, you get the idea.—Pato continued.
“Why do I love it? It’s ‘cuz THERE’S A BREAD CASTLE IN PANAMA!” He was practically shrieking, he was so excited.
“Pato, that’s not true at all.”
“Of course it is. Listen: TAN-ana [read: PAN-ama].” ASIDE: When I split apart the word and read it backwards now, the linguist in me sees, “loves (ama) bread (pan)”, which is quite funny in itself; however, the actual origin of the word Panama is derived from a Guaraní word that means, “the place of many fish”. But we’re not there yet.
Fast-forward to the following day. To the tune of Frère Jacques, I sang: Where is Pa-to, where is Pa-to? / ¿Dónde está? ¿Dónde está? ¡Dime, por favor! / ¡Dime, por favor! / Tell me, please! Tell me, please!
Young ducks require an enormous amount of rest, so it was not unexpected to find him sound asleep in his casa/house [read: a drawer in my desk]. What was unexpected was the stubborn, whiny response at 11:30am: an emphatic, “NO!”
“Pato, everyone is here to see you. You need to get up now. It’s practically noon!” [this was all in the target language] This was the defining moment: a tough decision.
“Mmmfff.” He mumbled something unintelligible and rolled over. Uh-oh.
I motioned to the class to be very quiet, and proceeded to grab a flashcard with the word, “pan” on it. Attempt number two, in a quiet, sing-songy voice.
“Oh Pato, cariño, it’s time to get up now. I made your favorite: pan.”
He rocket-shipped out of bed at the last word. “PAN-PAN-PAN, ¡¡¡¡¿DÓNDE ESTÁ?!!!! I LOOOOOVE PAN! ¡¡¡ME ENCANTA!!!“
Well, that was, umm, #Effective.
Thoroughly convinced that there was more pan hidden somewhere, he followed his nose beak and did, indeed, find a massive stack of high resolution images of pan. Loaves of bread, empanadas, medialunas [croissants], sliced bread, baguettes, Challah, bread rolls, the works.
And so, long story short, we built a BREAD CASTLE for Pato. Ours looked like this:
If you wanted to make your own Bread Castle (castillo de pan) at home, the tiny door route is pretty cool. DuPont Nutrition and Health has proven that any food is game here- you are not limited to pan!
Ultimately, the lesson here is that if Pato hadn’t made the decision to get out of bed, he would not have made an #AwesomeBreadCastle. He also would not have had another important decision on his plate (bad pun, since we’re talking about food, plates…): that is, what exactly do you do with a Bread Castle after you make one?
As I don’t have an answer to the latter yet, we may now conclude with the moral of the story:
So make sure to rocket-ship out of bed in the mornings. You never know what might happen.
NOTE: This post is sponsored by The Non-Existent Bread Castle Company of PAN-ama. Thank you for reading.
In class, we cover a lot of territory. I am constantly throwing culture, geography, grammar–first graders don’t know it’s grammar, but it is–songs, new vocabulary, and more at them, with confidence that they will catch at least one new thing each day.
In the last update, you learned that students simulated walking the Camino de Santiago (a 500-mile hike across Spain), and then traveled to Peru to see Rainbow Mountain and also make and pan for oro/gold (aka tesoro/treasure). ASIDE: six weeks later, I am still discovering specks of gold fairy dust glitter everywhere!
As the weeks progressed, these culture projects morphed into optional centers: those that wanted to continue walking the Camino or sluicing sediment for gold could; and those that wanted to do something different also had that choice. My theory is that if students are interested and personally invested in an idea, they will be more likely 1) to retain the information; and 2) to apply that information to their daily lives, so that Spanish becomes a part of them, as opposed to ‘merely a class’.
First graders ‘sign up’ for these centers in one of two ways each class, via either speaking or writing. To build their confidence, we begin with written work: they will write, “Hi! This is So-and-So*. [Today] I want to build/play/work/walk [the Camino]/ sing/dance/draw/ fly/clean/paint/etc.” (¡Hola! Soy ___. Quiero construir/jugar/trabajar/ caminar/cantar/bailar/dibujar/volar/limpiar/pintar.) The focus as of late has been on “Quiero” (I want) and “y“. Note that the latter means “and” in Spanish, but is pronounced like the English letter “e”. *Students also chose Spanish names a while back, so sometimes they write their real name, and other times they will write their Spanish name. First graders are also now required to sign up for talking (hablar/to talk, speak). This has been extended recently to include specifying in which language–español/Spanish or inglés/English.
To make written work more enticing to six-year-olds, there were a few requirements: one, they had to glue or tape on a colorful stamp from a Spanish-speaking country (Mexico, Costa Rica, Argentina) to their notecard; and two, they had to drop it in a basket pulley-system (that went up to the ceiling and down again) in order to “send” it to me at the Post Office. When this got old, we switched to writing on pizarras/ whiteboards, which was conveniently also a vocabulary word in the “Bathroom Song” (¿Puedo ir al baño?/Can I go to the bathroom?), a classic for first grade.
For each center, there are recommendations and suggestions, but they are also open-ended to allow for student agency and creativity. For example, “construir” (build) began quite literally, with first graders building towers out of blocks; this progressed to building houses and forts out of cardboard and blankets.
One day, however, someone wanted to “build” a computer out of cardboard. Another day, the “building” center became more of factory, in which students “built” paper fans (abanicos) and then tried to sell them to others (fake pesos). Yet another day, someone found a “sewing” center card (coser/to sew), and asked how to do that: we used a hole-puncher to make a ton of holes on a piece of folded paper, and students wove yarn through the holes, making their own wallets to stash dinero/money. We have even had mini ice-hockey tournaments in one class, and dance choreography lessons in the other! I will hide the puck and force linguistic interactions here: ¿Dónde está el disco?/Where is the puck?! You must understand, EVERYTHING is about language in my class!
The center work builds from kindergarten to spiral vocabulary and, gradually, first graders begin to see that the sky is the limit when it comes to creativity. Vocabulary is scaffolded to be as versatile as possible here; learning “hold-puncher” is not as useful as learning, “I want/I need that” (Quiero/Necesito eso), especially as students switch centers frequently, based on their interests.
More recently, students have practiced leading the class as the “teacher” (maestro/a) by asking and reading, “¿Cómo estás?” with several possible answers:
casado(a)/married (class joke);
tengo hambre/I’m hungry;
tengo frío/I’m cold;
muy bien/very good; or
Students will watch 2-minute Bluey shows in Spanish at the beginning of class as a listening activity as well; here, they raise their hand when they hear a word or phrase they know. First graders really enjoy this! A newer song is called Botas Perdidas/Lost Boots; here, first graders sit under the tables to watch the song, as the singer looks for thingsunder the table (debajo de la mesa), on top of the chair, etc.
Students also spent a day sorting flashcards (masculine/feminine nouns). This lesson usually comes about when I notice some getting sloppy with spelling; my goal is simply for first graders to pay more attention to words but also to expose them to grammar.
In class, it is a silly game, where there are “boy” words and “girl” words, and boys “get” ice-cream (el helado) but girls “get” pizza (la pizza), and then they try to figure out–detective work!–what the pattern is (“el” words are considered “boy” words; “la” words are “girl” words–but it is completely nonsensical in terms of the noun itself–merely a grammatical construction).
Last but not least, first graders were introduced to a language-learning app called Fun Spanish. This is also now a center option. Whew! Thank you for reading all of this. I did not intend for it to be so verbose. I hope you are having a great weekend!
Gain confidence speaking the target language (~shouting as opposed to speaking).
Simplify thoughts to communicate a basic message in the target language.
Students learn about the cultural importance of fútbol/soccer in the Spanish-speaking world, and play “Spanish-only” games outside with specific vocabulary they are expected to use.
Somehow, this unit always ends unexpectedly. Last year, the ball was kicked over the fence by accident and lost forever. This year, a student fell into a bush, from which emerged a swarm of very angry bees. Oh my! Ah well, c‘est la vie…
Create and build the habit of studying a language in short spurts, on a regular basis.
Work independently at his/her own pace.
Students began the year working on the Duolingo app in class for five minutes a day, 3x/week. Partway through the year, this was assigned as homework; fourth graders were expected to be working on Duolingo 3x/week. There was a very wide range here: some students went crazy, earning more than 16,000 XP over the year (rockstars!, some had streaks of 100+ days in a row), while others ended the year with less than 1,000 XP.
The overarching goal was to give those extra-motivated students an outlet to work at their own pace–which they most certainly did–and to gently encourage and build the habit of studying a language a little bit each day. I will structure this differently next year for more accountability on the students’ part (~the homework piece was more a lack of maturity, since some were not even 9 years old at the beginning of the year!).
NOTE: The commentary above is directed toward fourth graders only. We tried using the app with third graders as well, but it fizzled out–those who were not on grade level for reading in English were discouraged. That said, I had the native speakers choose a different language to study (in lieu of Spanish), which was a good challenge for them.
The majority of second & third graders preferred the Fun Spanish app, but we did not have the paid version this year (I will look into that for the future) and the free version was very limited.
Name and locate all 21 Spanish-speaking countries (jumping on a floor map).
Transfer knowledge to other maps (find countries on globe, paper, poster, etc.).
Connect country names with class Culture Projects.
Apply map knowledge in free play.
Actual quote: “No, you can’t drive to Puerto Rico- it’s an island! You have to take a boat! ~first grader proceeds to ‘row’ himself in cardboard box across the room.
Students jump on and name Spanish-speaking countries on tape floor map. Many also become familiar with the flags of said countries, more through osmosis than anything else!
Grades 2-4 completed/mastered all 21 countries.
Some classes looked at clothing tags in class (e.g., shirts, shoes) and food labels at home to identify imports/exports from Spanish-speaking countries: bananas from Costa Rica, shirts from Honduras, avocados from Mexico, etc.
Grade 1 learned all 21 Spanish-speaking countries on the map, and loved trying to better their times with an online timer.
Kindergarten learned all of South America on the map, and recognizes names of several other countries from projects.
PK-4 recognizes “Puerto Rico”, “Guatemala”, “Mexico”, and “Colombia” from projects.
Make connections with the written and spoken word in the target language (e.g., phonetics).
Combine and relate new and old ideas, especially in written work.
Apply memorized key phrases in meaningful contexts, especially in spoken work.
Express wants and needs in the target language.
Students “sign up” for a center work activity of their choice. Here, they write a letter (similar to the town simulation written work in grades 2&3), and check in with the teacher for immediate feedback re: the written mechanics, punctuation, spelling, etc. of their work. Feedback is personalized and differentiated to/for each student, dependent on literacy and reading levels.
When the majority of students are comfortable with a grammatical concept or phrase, new information is provided. Partway through the year, students are given the option to write OR speak/voice aloud their requests (hablar/escribir). By the last quarter, students are encouraged to just speak; by that point, their confidence with the language has grown tremendously. Many continue writing their requests and enjoy reading them aloud to the teacher!
Following 5-10 minutes of written work and check-ins, students proceed to said activity and work on asking for items and using key phrases in the target language with their classmates and teacher. Most days, there is constant linguistic interaction between students>students and students>teacher and teacher>students.
Kindergarten: Students write, “Soy + [their name]”; the name of a Spanish-speaking country (those less literate draw the flag stripes instead); and an activity (jugar/play; dibujar/draw; construir/build). Focus on the letter “j” and that it is pronounced like the letter “h” in English.
Grade 1: Students write, “Hola, yo me llamo + [their name]; Quiero + [infinitive]; and work on using and pronouncing “y/and” and “con/with” properly and in context. Conversationally, they worked on adding discourse fillers such as pues/well…, and también/also.
Grades 2 & 3: Students write, “Hola/buenos días”; “Yo me llamo + [their name]”; Quiero + [infinitive]; work on using and pronouncing “y” and “con” properly and in context; Necesito + [one or more nouns]; and something for the closing, like un abrazo/adiós/hasta luego. Second graders learned, “Yo voy a + [noun or country name]”, while other grades used, “Quiero ir a + [nouns or country name]”.
Combine new and old knowledge of the target language.
Repeat key phrases and vocabulary and create movements/gestures to match each one.
Follow and comprehend short stories in the target language.
Apply words and phrases in everyday conversation (spoken).
Read lines of mini stories in the target language.
Students experience immersion in the target language and learn about The Adventures of Pato (my stuffed animal duck). Some of these stories are class conversations and wordplays and have ridiculous outcomes! Keep reading for a few examples.
Kindergarten: Pato starts the year off in a more low-key than not fashion, calmly singing a song to learn the names of the colors in Spanish. This quickly turns more exciting when he brings food coloring and coffee filters to the next class, so that kindergarteners can make their own designs. There is a lot of comprehensible input here: “How many drops of blue? Two more of red? Where? Which color over there? No, I don’t have purple, but is there a way we could make it? What happens if we mix blue and red?” etc.
The following class, Pato brings both vinegar/vinagre and water/agua, and students take turns smelling the identical-looking liquids, and commenting on whether they like the smell or not (me gusta/no me gusta). The story/conversation just keeps growing, complete with wordplays (a boy named Kai became the caimán, or alligator, in a mini story, where Pato is out on a boat with pirates looking for treasure when he is suddenly surrounded by alligators and must learn how to fly in order to escape (cue pulley/polea lesson and up/down directionals).
Grade 1: While some lessons evolve into crazy, unanticipated projects that span several classes, other silly stories are intentional class projects, as a means to an end. For example, when Pato wants to visit Spain, the class is divided into small groups and has to build him Popsicle stick boats with paper flags; this becomes a mini unit on floating and sinking objects (flota/se hunde).
Students later take a faux plane ride to Spain, have to go through customs/aduana, take off their shoes, show their pasaportes/passports, etc. When they arrive in Spain, Pato wants to see La Alhambra, the famous red fort, so first graders actually ended up painting huge swaths of cardboard red and building a very cool kid-sized model of the actual fort and gardens. They made tickets to visit and charged euros to enter the large fort. Wow!
Grade 2: A memorable day was when Pato thought fútbol, or soccer, was “food-ball”; this became a class joke and new sport, called, “Comida-ball”, wherein students took turns rolling [raw!] eggs on a soccer type field on the floor of their regular classroom (rompe el huevo). You lost if you cracked the huevo/egg, of course.
Somehow the class ended up building Pato a massive zipline outside and we experimented to see if the raw egg could make it down in one piece (it did, miraculously!). This led to the creation of a papier-mâché hot air balloon. Pato was pretty fixated on modes of transportation that first quarter.
Students experienced immersion in the target language via TPRS methodology. We co-created (as teacher and students) a number of mini-stories in the target language. The teaching style of these stories evolved over the year, in that some were pure TPRS, others were more script/play/ acting/theater style, and yet others were more AIM (gestures and repetition, but less of a focus on PQA). The latter seemed more effective for this age, mostly because processing levels (of reading and written translations on the board) varied significantly, based on their L1 reading levels.
**Note that students did not do much, if any, writing during this unit; the focus was on using language in meaningful contexts and encouraging them to apply words and phrases in everyday conversation. Students were exposed to proper spelling and punctuation/reading on the board, of course, but I did not require any written output. That said, I framed the TPRS story more as a class play, so that students had the opportunity to volunteer and read their lines aloud if they so desired.
We also incorporated well-known song classics into the story/play; for example, when an actor had “lost all hope” and was crying, the class would sing, “Ay yie yie yie, canta y no llores” (sing and don’t cry) and hear a short clip of Cielito lindo. They won’t know the name of the song, but they will recognize that line! Freewrites in the target language on a regular basis will be a goal for next year.
Locate country on the map and identify as Spanish-speaking.
Combine and relate new and old ideas, especially in written work.
Create a relevant product or business pertaining to said country.
Apply memorized key phrases in meaningful contexts.
Understand that countries use different currencies and that the value of bills with the same number on each one is not necessarily worth the same amount (e.g., 500 pesos does not equal 500 dollars).
Students participate in a town simulation. First, they choose a country as a class in which to “live”. Next, they set up businesses, make transactions with the local currency, do mini-projects relevant to said country, and really try to live the language, utilizing words and short phrases in everyday interactions as much as possible (e.g., mira/look!; necesito ayuda/I need help; necesito eso/I need that; por favor/please; gracias/ thank you; dónde está/where is it?; quiero/I want to…; etc.). Businesses evolve based on student interests. To prepare their minds each class for the task at hand, students compose short letters to the teacher (based on a sample/model) explaining who they are, what they want to do that day, and where they are going, along with the appropriate salutations.
Sample businesses this year included banks, restaurants, art museums, factories, and more. Key verbs included the following, among others: trabajar/to work; ir/to go; construir/to build; dibujar/to draw; etc.
I believe in multi-sensory and experiential learning, in involving all of the senses on a regular basis and in meaningful contexts.
I want students to not only see and think about the textual appearance of the word, “lemon”, but also to see and touch the thick outside yellow rind of the fruit; squeeze it in their hands and listen as citrus droplets fall into a glass; pucker their cheeks when they taste the uniquely sour flavor; smell the dirt as they plant lemon seeds; and begin to understand the tremendous complexity of a single word.
I believe in the power of play, that kids should be allowed to be kids for as long as possible.
I believe in wonder, joy, and curiosity.
I believe in creativity and thinking creatively, especially when there are boundaries and constraints or limitations in place.
In the classroom, I do not instruct students to simply “be creative”. I give them a problem, provide limited materials, and ask them to come up with a solution within those constraints.
I believe in hard work. I encourage developing the strength and perseverance that comes from working through challenges.
I believe in risk-taking and in the inevitability of failure. Learning how to fail is one of life’s greatest lessons.
I believe in teaching students to be self-directed and lifelong learners.
I believe that language is a beautiful canvas and mosaic with countless layers of meaning; but without context, it becomes a pile of randomly grouped Scrabble letters.
I believe that we can do anything we set our minds to.
Be smart. Be strong. Be kind. Work hard. Have fun.
1) Expectations: Students will be reminded of the academic and behavioral expectations on a regular basis. Students in my class are expected to be smart, kind, and strong (have ‘grit’), and to work hard and have fun.
2) Passwords: For some grade levels, students are given a “special word”, or Spanish password, which can determine where they sit each day. They think up creative ways to physically act out vocabulary (e.g., flower). If classes have assigned numbers, there may also be more math-related games included in the curriculum.
3) Tongue Twisters, Rhymes, & Poems: Other languages require that you move your mouth differently than in your native tongue. Tongue twisters and rhymes give students time to become aware of and play with sounds and phonetics.
4) Actions: Students physically act out nouns and verbs to reinforce and recycle vocabulary, and also to move around and get the ‘wiggles’ out of their systems. They may play fútbol/soccer outside, and learn several authentic ballroom dances as well, including the Salsa, Tango, Merengue, and Cha-cha.
5) Announcements & Advertisements: Students learn translated slogans, such as, “Me encanta” (I’m lovin’ it/McDonalds) and “Come más pollo” (Eat more chicken/Chick-fil-A) to make connections outside of the classroom. Announcements are code for public speaking practice in the target language, and will be worked in gradually as the year progresses.
6) Floor Map: Students jump on an interactive floor tape map of South and Central America to learn the names and locations of the 21+ Spanish-speaking countries and to reference the map in stories/culture.
7) Games: Students play authentic and translated versions of a variety of games in the target language. These are meant to build class camaraderie, and teach students to respond instinctually in Spanish.
8) Experiments & Projects: Science experiments emphasize order and step-by-step instructions, and allow students to participate in a hands-on way with the language. Projects are often cultural by nature. For example, students might study and then build a model of Chichen Itza (Mexico); simulate an authentic mercado (Argentina); mold Easter Island statues and tablets out of clay (Chile); or even create Salar de Uyuni mirror images with art, cameras, and technology (Bolivia).
10) Cultural Tidbits and Facts: Culture is woven throughout the curriculum. Sometimes, cultural tidbits will emerge as answers to students’ questions in class discussions. Other times, facts will be included in class stories.
9) Partner Stories & Scripts: Students read and/or create mini-stories in the target language, and also read class scripts. With the former, the idea is to develop literacy skills and spontaneous linguistic output. With the latter, the focus is on expression.
11) Storytelling (TPRS & AIM methodologies): Every conversation is a story. Here, students help the teacher “tell” a story in the target language. The teacher asks personalized questions, searching for details, and then lets the class decide (usually!) where the story will take them. Stories for the younger grades are presentational linguistically but interactive in that students may participate in certain parts (e.g., students might take turns hoisting a stuffed animal duck up-up-up to the sky on a pulley so that he could learn how to fly).
12) Apps: Grades 3 & 4 will be using Duolingo this year. The goal here is to create a habit and routine of studying the target language. Students are expected to spend 3x/week, for five minutes each day on the app. For more apps and resources, please visit the “Movies & Cartoons” page HERE.
My Dear Friends, Fellow Linguists, and Citizens of the World:
This summer, students are encouraged to continue their Spanish study by living the language, through whichever ‘access point’ they deem most exciting. It is important to tap into students’ interests here.
For example, if they like tech, work on a Spanish app consistently; if they like music, listen to songs in the target language; if they like art or science, check out the updated Culture Projects; if they like geography or travel, look at tags and stickers on clothing and fruits, and see how many Spanish-speaking countries they can find; if they like PE, complete the Camino For Good Summer Challenge (where you walk/bike/swim across Spain virtually and log your progress in an app, unlocking all sorts of fun along the way!).
Spanish class is all-encompassing, and as such, the goal is to make it fun so that students stick with it: language acquisition is a long journey, and it is important to enjoy the ride. For a plethora of links, resources, and ideas, keep reading!
NOTE: While the activities below are100% optional, it is my hope that you and your family begin incorporating Spanish into your daily lives: small, frequent doses are the most potent and effective!
“The idea is that you walk/swim/bike in your local area and each day you log your distance into the App. You will see your equivalent progression along the Camino Frances on the interactive map where you can get a real feel for the landscape and village life of the regions you pass through. The total distance of the Virtual Camino Frances is 485 mi/ 780 km.
As a way of keeping you motivated, the App has rich content in the form of over 2,000 photos, audio stories, local history and motivational quotes that get unlocked as you virtually travel through the 207 destinations along the way.”
SPANISH & FOOD
Take a “Food Tour” of the Spanish/Mexican/Venezuelan/ Peruvian restaurants in your city. Visit one new place a week, and take a photo of what you ordered to add to the food passport collage of your trips.
Consider making one of the following at home with your family.
Work on a language-learning app consistently this summer. Make goals for yourself about how many points you want to earn, or how many levels you want to level-up, or how many days a week you will practice. Switch your device’s language to Spanish if you want to!
Watch cartoons and movies in the target language; the brain does an incredible amount of work when it is given the opportunity to sit back, listen, and absorb. Do not downplay the importance of this when it comes to language acquisition!
SPANISH & WRITING
Keep a Spanish journal!
Doodle words you remember in the target language. Write the words or sentences in different colors and with different pens/ pencils/ markers/ paints/ gel pens/ etc. each day.
Tell the weather: hace sol (it’s sunny); hace mucho calor (it’s hot); está nublado (it’s cloudy); está lloviendo (it’s raining). Temperatures in Spanish-speaking countries are often in Celsius (use an online converter to see what 98*F equals!).
SPANISH & DANCE/MUSIC
Add a few Spanish songs to your playlists and listen to them in the car or on long road trips.
Find a song you like from the list above and play it every day while you brush your teeth or wash your face or set the table for dinner; make the song a part of your daily routine.
Next, create some dance choreography to go along with the song and share it with someone. Dress up, cut out tickets to “sell” for your performance, arrange seating, and remember, “Everything is sweeter when shared with a friend!” ❤
Make your own business! Decide what you will sell, and for how much (in pesos, euros, etc.). Display the items you create, build, or cook in a decorative way, so that your family will want to “buy” them.
Make a cash box and organize all of the money by country and by amount.
Watch movies in Spanish and add the Spanish subtitles– it can be interesting to compare the translations, which are oftentimes done in different countries. For example, you might hear, “¿Cómo estás?” but read, “¿Qué tal?“. You can even guess the country with some vocabulary and phrases.
Keep a Spanish journal and write a paragraph or two about what you remember the most from each day.
Make a “NO ENGLISH” rule at home with your family. Anyone who breaks the rule (intentionally or inadvertently) has to put a penny (or dollar?!) in a communal jar, or do everyone else’s chores for the next 24 hours. Make it a game!
Spanish is more than a class; it is a journey, and I cannot emphasize this enough. While the destination–fluency–is ultimately our telos, or end goal, the journey is equally important, and we want this journey to be filled to the brim with experiences and memories, so that language has meaning embedded in the words. Because that is the point, right?!
That said, it is important to recognize that when hiking (~our language-learning metaphor), there is value in both moving and standing still: sometimes you need to keep moving–and learning–filling up your tank with new experiences and new information; other times, you need to stop, pause, and be still while the world keeps moving. And sometimes, you meant or wanted to keep hiking, but didn’t get to it. That is okay!
Sometimes life throws us curve balls. Sometimes the world seems crazy. Sometimes our plans go awry. But a friend recently reminded me that through it all, we are responsible for how we respond: we can always choose joy. Whether ‘moving or standing still’ on your metaphorical hike, focus on what you love and make joy a priority this summer. It is time for a much needed respite now, but I also can’t wait to see you again in the fall! Have fun and be well.
LANGUAGE IS weird. Bizarre. Quirky. Odd. Let me clarify: yes, language encompasses all of those things–each and every language has its own particular quirks and oddities (in the grammatical sense)–but I am referring here more to language acquisition, or the process of how a child learns another language.
You see, much of my job as a language teacher involves talking. I talk and talk and talk, filling young minds with Spanish babbling: the different rhythms and cadence, the syntax, the intonation, the words that sound the same as English and mean the same thing in Spanish, the words that sound the same as English but don’t mean the same thing in Spanish, and the words in Spanish that don’t sound like anything in English. There is a tremendous amount of input that must occur before you can expect any output.
Students listen and absorb, absorb and listen, don’t listen and don’t absorb, don’t listen and do absorb, and then just when I’m about to lose all hope–because sometimes I feel like I’m having a conversation with the wall or an inanimate object–they don’t say anything. But on the day after that, THEY DO! It is a bit magical.
Initially, it is a word here or there. “¡Hola!” “Could I go to the baño, I mean, bathroom?” “Wow, that is really grande (big)!” These phrases gradually–and ever so casually–are elongated over time: “¡Hasta luego, maestra!” and “Tengo hambre” (I’m hungry). “Quiero pintar” (I want to paint).
And then on some days, the conversation lulls: silence returns, deafening in every sense of the word, a lonely desert stretching as far as the eye can see. Wind whips across the dunes: English abounds. My conversation with the Inanimate Objects resumes. What happened?, I wonder. Is language like the tides? Did Spanish just go back out to sea? I don’t understand.
This is the fabulously irrational cycle, the pattern-less pattern, the inconsistent chain or sequence of events of language acquisition which lead to circles and spirals that appear at first to be a child’s scribbles. Nonsensical and incoherent, we not only allow but in fact encourage and invite the scribbles–the practice–because we know it’s leading somewhere. This Somewhere arrived for students in first grade today. Note that while “Somewhere” does not equate to fluency, it is a definite mile marker on the yellow brick road of their journey to proficiency, and should be congratulated.
In other words, the amount of Spanish in meaningful contexts–and complete sentences, at that!–that I heard this afternoon was astounding. Stars and planets aligned, the tide came in, the “English desert” disappeared, and WOW! “Quiero eso (I want that)”, “Ayúdame, por favor, maestra” (help me please, teacher) “¿Dónde está?” (where is it?) “Yo me llamo ____ (My name is ___).” Quiero ir a Guatemala con ___” (I want to go to Guatemala with so-and-so), “¡No quiero escribir!” (I don’t want to write!) “¡¡MIRA!!” (LOOK!) “Necesito rojo y azul, por favor” (I need red and blue [food coloring], please), “Vamos, amigos” (let’s go, friends!), “¿Puedo ir al baño?” (Can I go to the bathroom?).
It could just be the stifling heat–perhaps they are delirious and don’t realize they’re speaking in Spanish–but progress is being made, however intangible and unquantifiable. They are doing a wonderful job, and I just wanted to let you know that the class’ Spanish output today was truly incredible!
My Dear Friends, Fellow Linguists, and Citizens of the World:
The holidays are a time for family, friends, and much merriment. Hopefully, amidst the frantic shoppers and bumper-to-bumper traffic, you are able to relax and find some peace and joy in the season.
That said, learning does not stop or stagnate just because there are no classes; we learn constantly throughout our lives, and these breaks remind us that education takes many forms. While vacations are definitely for relaxing and spending time with loved ones, 20,160 minutes [two weeks] is a long time without a language, and parents frequently ask me what they can do at home to supplement their child’s language study. With that in mind, I have curated a list of cultural and linguistic activities that you and your children are welcome to explore over the break. Feel free to pick and choose what works for you and your family, but know that all of these activities are 100% optional.
CULTURE: Holiday Traditions from Spanish-Speaking Countries to Try
1) Cuba: For New Year’s, many Cubans mop their houses from top to bottom, and fill up a bucket with the dirty water. Next, they dump this water in the street, as a symbolic gesture to “throw away” all of the bad stuff from this past year and begin anew. Later, they walk around the block with a suitcase, waving goodbye to their neighbors. This is meant to ensure a trip abroad in the coming months. A staple Cuban event is the pig roast (click on the link, if you dare), but they also will eat black beans and rice, plantains, and buñuelos for dessert for the Christmas Eve meal. A pig roast takes a long time, but the water-dumping and suitcase jaunt seem manageable!
2) Venezuela: “For locals in the capital of Caracas, it is customary to strap on your roller skates and glide to Christmas mass. As legend has it, children go to bed with a piece of string tied round their toe and the other end dangling out of the window. As skaters roll past, they give the string a tug and children know that it’s time to, well, get their skates on” (source). The streets are actually blockaded off each year so that families can roller-skate to Midnight Mass safely. People say this began as an alternative to sledding, since Venezuela is right on the equator and therefore quite warm in December. While I would not recommend roller-skating in the middle of the street in this country, you could go to a rink to skate!
3) Spain: Eat twelve grapes at midnight on December 31, to welcome in the New Year and for good luck for each month of the coming year. People also wear red clothing (and underwear!) for extra good luck. There is also a highly anticipated, three-hour long Christmas Lottery called, “El Gordo” that Spaniards watch on television December 22nd. Children from the San Ildefonso School practice all year long to announce the winning numbers in song. THIS is what it looks like. (Note: The grape-eating tradition has been adopted in many other Spanish-speaking countries as well, and not just Spain.)
4) Mexico: “Families begin the nine-day observance of las posadas by reenacting the Holy Family’s nine-day journey to Bethlehem and their search for shelter in a posada, or inn. In some parts of Mexico, for the first eight evenings of las posadas two costumed children carry small statues of Mary and Joseph as they lead a candlelight procession of friends and neighbors from house to house. They sing a song asking for shelter for the weary travelers. When at last they find a family that will give shelter, the children say a prayer of thanks and place the figures of Mary and Joseph in the family’s nacimiento. Then everyone enjoys a feast at the home of one of the participants.
For the children, the piñata party on the first eight evenings is the best part of las posadas. The blindfolded children are spun around and given a big stick. They take turns trying to break open the piñata with the stick while the piñata is raised and lowered. Everybody scrambles for the gifts and treats when the piñata shatters and spills its treasure” (source). Here, you could act out las posadas and make or buy a piñata.
Oaxaca, Mexico also hosts a very unique radish-carving festival called, “Noche de los Rábanos” (Night of the Radishes) every December. The radish carvings are extremely detailed, intricate sculptures–see pics HERE and HERE–which wilt quickly; timing here is everything. See if you can carve a miniature radish sculpture at home with your parents.
5) Guatemala: Here, “Guatemalans use colored sawdust to construct their nativity sets, and create characters with indigenous features to represent their ancestors” (source). While these nativity scenes are very beautiful, perhaps even more impressive are the sawdust carpets Guatemalans create for Holy Week (Easter). Check out a few pictures HERE to learn more and read about the 6,600 foot long sawdust carpet–a world record. It might be fun to create a miniature sawdust carpet model, but using colored sand and a stencil outline instead. Take a picture so that it lasts forever!
People in many Latin American countries also prepare Christmas tamales, although the recipes differ from place to place and culture to culture (e.g., Mexicans tend to wrap them in corn husks and Guatemalans in banana leaves).
LANGUAGE: Spanish Language Activities
1) Watch a movie in the target language, with Spanish voiceover and English subtitles. If you have not seen Coco or Ferdinand, now would be a great time, but any movie works! NOTE: you are welcome to change the voiceover AND subtitles to Spanish, but quite often, the translations are done in different countries: what you are hearing is not what you are reading. This can be confusing for a beginner; it is more important right now for students to listen to the language: input, input, input! If your family does not want to watch the movie in Spanish with you, ask to invite some friends over. ¡Fiesta!
2) Find a Spanish radio station on your car radio and listen to it either driving around town or on a long road trip. Dance along to the songs and try to pick out a few words you know!
3) Schedule a family night out at a local Mexican/Cuban/Venezuelan/ Spanish-speaking restaurant. Then, either order in Spanish (if you already know how), or ask the waiter a few questions and learn how! Most people are more than willing to share their linguistic knowledge. Be courageous and try something new you have not had before. If you go to multiple restaurants, make a photo slideshow of Food from Different Countries!
4) Prepare a traditional recipe with your family from a Spanish-speaking country. Make it interesting and try something new that you have never had before. Tortilla Española? Bocadillo? Churros? Flan? Dulce de leche? Tamales? Guacamole? Patacones? Tres leches cake? Gallo pinto? Horchata? Enjoy the process of searching for a recipe (appetizer? drink? main course? dessert?), buying ingredients you may have never heard of before, and then preparing it as a family. There tends to be a big focus on family and community in Latin American households, so make sure that everyone helps out. The more, the merrier!
5) Not traveling this vacation? Plan an imaginary trip to a Spanish-speaking country. Pretend you have $10,000. But wait! Other countries do not all use the dollar. Google what type of money your country has. HERE is a currency converter to play around with. Then, decide where you want to go in said country. If you type in the search bar, “points of interest Spain” [or the country you are interested in], you will get photos and names of landmarks, palaces, monuments, beaches, etc. that may be of interest.
6) Find a Spanish language-learning app that you like, and then level-up three levels to complete this challenge. Grades 3&4 have been working on Duolingo this year, so they are welcome to ‘level up’, or explore another app for fun. Here are a few suggestions: MindSnacks, Duolingo, Memrise, FluentU, and/or Epic. Or play the Guess the Languagegame and see if you can beat your score. Please note that the latter is highly addictive!
7) It is very common in many part of Mexico to eat, well, bugs. Really! From worms and creamy winged-ant salsas to stink bugs, chapulines, and 88 species of beetles, “Mexico is the country with the greatest variety of edible insects: 549 species, according to the 2013 report Edible Insects: Future Prospects for Food and Feed Security.” To test your courage, visit the Candy Store locally (ask me where!) and buy a few fried crickets, or try Amazon. There are even fun flavors to whet your appetite, such as: Bacon & Cheese, Salt & Vinegar, and Sour Cream & Onion.
8) Start looking for fruits, vegetables, boxes, cans, clothing, etc. that come from Spanish-speaking countries, and try to collect stickers and/or clothing tagsfrom all 21 countries (e.g., clothes “Made in Guatemala”, bananas from Costa Rica, avocados from Mexico; that is, imports/exports). This was a Spanish Challenge, but many Lower School children (grades 2-4) can already name a majority of the Spanish-speaking countries**, and are encouraged to keep their eyes open.
**Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic (La República Dominicana), Puerto Rico (technically a territory), Spain (España), and Equatorial Guinea.
You’ve read this far and still want more? First, thank you for taking the time to read it; it is greatly appreciated. Second, feel free to check out my Summer Packet 2017 and Summer Packet 2016 for more ideas. For any fellow linguists, the Articles drop-down menu and corresponding pages have enough links to last a lifetime. In between your Google Rabbit Hole/Alice in Wonderland virtual searching, enjoy the time off, “sprinkle kindness like confetti“, and have a magical and very Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and Happy Holidays. See you in 2021!
My Dear Friends, Fellow Linguists, and Citizens of the World:
This year’s summer packet for Spanish is a list of 50 ideas—both online and offline–that you are welcome to reference when your child invariably complains, “I’m bored!” during the summer months. Have them choose their favorite number (or use theRandom Number Generator LINK –> input a range of 1-50), and then do the corresponding activity on the list.
If you are strongly committed to incorporating Spanish throughout the summer, you can also print out the calendars below and mark an “X” whenever you do something related to Spanish language or culture.
A few activities on the list require that you leave your house. At the time of this writing, it is unclear when all businesses will reopen; obviously, do what is best and safe for your family. There are plenty of activities you can do at home. So let’s get started! And if I don’t see you sometime this week, have a wonderful summer!
-Your Resident Linguist
**For those of you interested in a Digital Detox, I have divided up the ideas into ONLINE (#’s 1-22) and OFFLINE (#’s 23-50). Just print out this page and power down your devices!
Check out Universal Yums!, where you order and receive snacks from a different country every month.
If you have any change in your piggybank, count all of it, and then type that number into an online currency converter to see how much it would be in a Spanish-speaking country. For example, $100 US dollars today is about 92€euros in Spain, but 392,111 pesos in Colombia. WOW!
Listen to the Cuban folktale The Barking Mouse (ends at 4:21). It is in English and Spanish, and a great story!
Check the weather every day for a week in your favorite Spanish-speaking city and country using this site: Accuweather. Draw signs comparing the climates if you want!
Change the clocks on all of your devices to the “24-hour clock”. Many Spanish-speaking countries use this, and it is useful to know that 15:30 is the same as 3:30pm!
“For me an object is something living. This cigarette or this box of matches contains a secret life much more intense than that of certain human beings./Para mí, un objeto es algo vivo. Este cigarrilo o esta caja de cerillos contiene una vida secreta mucho más intensa y apasionada que la de muchos seres humanos.“-Miró
Learn to count to 100 in Spanish. Watch this video for SEVEN days in a row, and copy the exercises the woman does. You will learn in no time!
Listen to the entire Spanish Summit playlist of songs HERE.
Use a decorative box as a “Vision Board”, where you put names and photos of all the places in the 21 Spanish-speaking countries that you would like to visit to one day. Note that these cannot simply be country names—they need to be names of specific places in those countries! This is listed as an online activity because you might need to do a little research.
Explore these other language-learning apps. There are sections for toddlers, preschoolers, and elementary students, but you do have to scroll. HERE is another list of apps.
Learn about Worry Dolls from Guatemala from THIS PAGE, and then try to make your own.
Label ten things in your house in Spanish. Use WordReference or Google Translate to look up the correct spelling. Make sure to include the “el” or “la” word–for example, la mesa/the table.
Listen to at least 3 full songs from THIS PAGE, pick your favorite, and then put it on loop as you dance around or do chores around the house.
Watch a movie (that you have already seen) with Spanish voiceover and English subtitles.
Get a head-start on the holiday season, and make Picasso-inspired tree ornaments. Activity HERE.
Play the card game Mano Nerviosa to practice counting/numbers in Spanish. This super short video explains how to play, but if you would rather read the instructions, this is the LINK.
Look at your stuffed animals, and make a list of what types of animals they are. If you don’t have any, just pick your favorite animals.
Next, look up the names of 5-7 of these animals in Spanish, and write the words of each one on little slips of paper and tape them to your stuffed animals/peluches.
Hide them around the house (or outside), and create a treasure map with clues for your family to find them.
When you go to the beach, build a model of this famous REAL SCULPTURE in Uruguay called, “La mano” (the hand). It is huge in real life! Take a time-lapse video of you building it, to save the memory!
Paint a white t-shirt the colors of your favorite Spanish-speaking country’s flag, and be sure to print the name of the country on the shirt. Ask your parents what kind of paint is best to use.
For example, Spain would be red and yellow stripes and say “SPAIN” or “ESPAÑA“. HERE are the flag colors for other countries.
Play “Red Light, Green Light” outside with your family, but say the Spanish words instead: “Luz roja, luz verde“. “Luz” is pronounced like the English word, “loose”, as in baggy or loose pants.
Cook/bake/make/eat a differenttraditional recipe from a Spanish-speaking country with your family each week. Here are a few ideas:
Taste-test a bunch of new foods from Spanish-speaking countries that you’ve never tried before. Make it a big deal: dress up in a fancy outfit, display the food platters on a big long counter or table, take photos, critique the food… have fun!
You could also prepare THREE RECIPES (see #26), and have your own “Cooking Show”, where you get to critique the food and decide which is the best one!
Pretend you are in Spain, and change all of the clocks and watches in your house six hours ahead for a day. For example, if it is 9am here, it would be 3pm in Spain. Make sure to ask your parents before you do this one!
Spell out a word in Spanish with an unusual material, like uncooked spaghetti on the sidewalk, or a gigantic “JUGAR” (‘who-gar’/play) sign out of leaves and sticks in your yard. Make it so big that airplanes could read it! Or not… 🙂
Look at your clothing tags, the sticker labels on your fruits and vegetables, and the labels on cans and other food products, and notice where these things were made and where they came from.
For example: clothing “Made in Guatemala”, bananas from Costa Rica, avocados from Mexico, etc.
Then, see if you can find 3-5 products from Spanish-speaking countries; or fill in my chart HERE.
Ask your parents or relatives if they have ever traveled to another country. If they have, see if you can find tickets, receipts, foreign currency, brochures, postcards, magnets, or anything else from their trip. Make a decorative box to store all the treasures in. Be sure to interview/ask them all about their trip!
Take a Bioluminescent Kayaking Tour. If you don’t know what bioluminescence is, check out this beautiful VIDEO. The video showcases Australia, but bioluminescence occurs in Puerto Rico, too!
Think about language in general: do you have a favorite word? What is it? Why? Do you have a favorite Spanish word?
I used to like the word chic because it sounded smooth and fancy and grown-up. I also used to like the word raw, because it was fun to pronounce; but then I realized it spelled “war” backwards, and decided that I didn’t like it as much.
Try to speak in a different accent for a WHOLE DAY!
Create a Costa Rican rainforest in part of your house, like the one we made in our classroom. Do you have stuffed animals that might live there, like monkeys or frogs, or green birthday streamers for vines? Be creative!
Play hopscotch outside, but say the numbers aloud in Spanish as you jump on each one. Hopscotch, or Rayuela (‘rye-you-A-lah‘) in Spanish, is also the name of a very famous book from Argentina.
Look for signs in English and Spanish when you are out shopping with your family (Lowe’s always seems to have a lot!).
If you are staying home, look for warranties, manuals, and/or instructional booklets that have Spanish translations. When you pay attention, you will start seeing translations everywhere!
Color in every square inch of a sheet of paper with bright colored markers.
Next, put the paper in a tray and squirt water all over it (squirt, not pour), so that the colors blend together. Let the water evaporate overnight.
Then, fold the paper in half a bunch of times and cut out snowflakes to hang up. You can pretend that that area of your house is the southernmost tip of Argentina, since it is really cold there for most of the year!
Build a huge fort (like LaAlhambra in Spain) in your house again, with chairs and blankets.
Make a big sign in Spanish that says, “NO ENTRAR” (don’t come in!) or “¡PELIGRO!” (‘pay-LEE-grow’/danger!).
Variation: Build a fort outside in your backyard with branches and other natural materials!
Count how many days in a row you can do something Spanish-related. Be sure to mark it off on your calendar so that you don’t forget!
Visit your local library and/or bookstore, and ask where the children’s foreign language section is. Browse through the books for ten minutes and see if you can find any words in Spanish you recognize!
Listen to a Spanish radio station or podcast for 20 minutes and try to pick out five words you understand. This could be five minutes a day for four days; it does not have to be all at once. What does Spanish sound like to you? Rap music? Raindrops?
Ask to schedule a family night out at a local Mexican/Cuban/Spanish-speaking restaurant. Then, either order in Spanish (if you already know how), or ask the waiter a few questions and learn how!
Draw out a maze on a sheet of paper (maze idea #1; maze idea #2 is harder!). Then, go outside and transfer this maze to the sidewalk with colored chalk. Now walk through the maze. Every time you get to a dead end, you have to name a different Spanish-speaking country in under five seconds!
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? At a stoplight? Train your brain to use those ten second blips of nothingness to remember anything Spanish. This could be:
the last thing you studied on Duolingo, OR
counting as high as you can, OR
closing your eyes and remembering any of my wall word signs in the Spanish classroom, OR
you could ask your parents what words they know in Spanish.
First, they say a word, then you say a word, then they say a word, etc. The person who can’t think of anything else when it’s their turn, loses!
Play “Spanish soccer” (fútbol) outside. Decide which Spanish-speaking country you represent, and then keep score with Spanish numbers. Incorporate any vocabulary words you remember, like “Pásala” (pass it!) or “¡Por acá!” (over here!).
It is very common in many parts of Mexico to eat, well, bugs. Really! Supposedly, Mexico is the country with the greatest variety of edible insects: 549 species.
To test your courage, visit the local Candy Store and buy a few fried crickets there or on Amazon. There are even fun flavors to whet your appetite, such as: Bacon & Cheese, Salt & Vinegar, and Sour Cream & Onion.
When you go to the beach, build a sandcastle and trace out the word, “Castillo” (castle) in the sand with your feet. Every time a wave washes part of it away, whisper “¡Adiós, castillo!” (‘kahs-TEE-yo’/Goodbye, castle!).
You read all the way to the bottom?! Thank you so much for reading! Feel free to check out THE BLOG for more posts. Have a great day!
As a child, I played “school” a lot. My mother says that in kindergarten, I would coerce others to be my students and scribble lessons on a Raggedy-Ann chalkboard. Even as a teenager, I lived in a world of ideas. I remember wanting to figure out how to convert the human body into pure electrons so that I could travel over the phone wires (circuit) to visit my friend in a town twenty miles away. For the record, I never figured that one out, but school was rarely boring; there was always more to learn and do. If anything, I felt overwhelmed at times with the quantity of information available and a serious surplus of interests. Suffice to say, teaching has always been in my blood.
That said, I did not get a degree in education. Instead, I opted for philosophy—the love of wisdom—and languages. The end result was that I entered the classroom as an educator from a different perspective. My philosophy? Learning should be a mix of terrific fun, adventure, and hard work—the kind where you want to work hard to accomplish something. Forget checking off learning standards and textbooks; let’s get to the meat of it all–playing with ideas, exploring, investigating, researching, building, thinking, doing.
Fast-forward twelve years: I am (hopefully) beyond the stage of a ‘beginner’ teacher, have expectations in my class, and a daily routine sprinkled with creative units that spiral, spiral, spiral. The administrative assistant listens patiently as I share about my newest ideas: “What if… we tried to build the Alhambra out of cardboard? Where in the school could students create a life-sized model of the eleven-foot wingspan of an Andean Condor, without the fire inspector getting mad? At 2:30am, I woke up and wondered if first through fifth grade students could collectively name 100 of the 7,000 languages in the world.” I put a lot of thought into my lessons, and yet, sometimes ideas get the best of me and I rush into a project fueled by excitement instead of plans or logic. It generally works out in the end, but because I (along with many educators) spend so much time on work, I felt slightly offended when someone commented the other day–offhandedly–“so students write a little bit in your class and then just play?” Naturally, this got me thinking. Hmm. Well, not exactly. How to explain?
For starters, the phrase ‘just play’ is frustrating. Why do we want kids to grow up so fast? At what age does play no longer become an acceptable form of learning? How can play be viewed in a more positive light? I do not know any savants or polymaths personally, but my understanding is that a true genius plays with ideas, even *gasp* as an adult. Anyone who develops technological gadgets, works with AR or AI, or creates new algorithms is, ultimately, playing with an idea. Anyone who drives a motor vehicle plays with ideas on the highway. It is like a massive, ever-evolving chess game: if I speed up, I can pass him, but then she looks impatient, and he’s on his phone, so what if I went that way? Or I could stay here and slow down, and create a stalemate for that guy who keeps switching lanes. Safety is first, but how do I get out of this traffic jam? We play with ideas all the time, but for whatever reason, the label ‘play’ is relegated to only the youngest of the young.
I was blown away the other week when, after a quiz (and a few tears), my fifth graders asked to play in a cardboard fort generally reserved for younger grades. They took out the plastic food, started role-playing some sort of spy game, and had a great time… playing. I reflected on that day, along with a quote from Pat Bassett, former NAIS president, for a while.
“Wait a minute! That’s a novel thought: getting to do what you want to do with your friends in class, not just between and after class”.
Bassett Blog 2011/10
…and came to a conclusion: I think he is right. As per my general lack of patience when it comes to ideas, I redesigned my curriculum overnight: students would sign up for centers in the target language that they wanted to do.
Now, fourth graders write short letters in Spanish each day, explaining their plans, and read them aloud to me. They travel to said center, but wait! ¡Señorita! Where did you put the basketball? Where is the paper? Well, I may have hidden it. On purpose. For the—drumroll, please—intention of forced linguistic interactions. Students do get to do what they want in my class, that is, “play”, but it is very intentionally guided. Yes, I did hide the miniature soccer ball in the closet. You will probably need the keys to get it. “Señorita, I need the keys.” Sorry, I don’t speak English. “Necesito las llaves.” Ahh, sí. Now I understand! “Where is the paper?” Umm, I think you mean, “¿Dónde está el papel?”, right? Moreover, I am constantly bombarding them with cultural project ideas: could you help me outline the Nazca Lines with masking tape on my floor? Do you want to build a clay model of Machu Picchu? How could we make a functional water fountain to resemble the ones in the Alhambra gardens in Spain? Is this, “just play”?
After a few weeks passed, I began to get a little worried. The adult in me was concerned that certain ideas and grade levels were overlapping. First graders were not the only ones who wanted to play the class keyboard or paint or build the Alhambra. Third and fourth and fifth and kindergarten did as well. But then a beautiful thing happened: suddenly, ideas themselves began circulating in the hallways. Grade levels were tapping into the same activities, but from different developmental perspectives, and this began to create a conversation. Isn’t this what education is all about?
2020 is around the corner, with creativity chomping at the bit to lead us into the future. Let’s make sure that playing with ideas—at any age—is welcome in that world. Just do it. Just play.
I am sure that some of you are already making summer plans. How time flies! With that in mind, for parents and/or students seeking a fun and educational language camp over the summer, I highly recommendConcordia Language Villages.
Languages offered include Arabic, Chinese, Danish, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Swedish for pretty much every age, but there are also family camps as well as adult programs. While the prices are on the higher end, the program is highly renowned, 100% cultural and linguistic immersion, and well worth the cost. There are also scholarships available and virtual village experiences (TBD). Please visit their site for more information.
Concordia Language Villages
I have also just learned about another program, but it is only for 11-year-olds. This camp seems to focus more on building global friendships, and has students from many different countries from around the world. Check it outHERE if you are interested. Thanks and happy language learning!
Recently, I have had several questions about native (and heritage) speakers and how to improve their reading and writing skills in the target language. In list form, here are a few ideas:
Doblajes, o covers en inglés. Es que, ¡me encantan! Alejandro Cázares es buenísimo como cantante y sus videos tienen toda la letra escrita, para que los nativos puedan leer y cantar a la vez. Encima, durante el proceso de escuchar, pueden aprender cómo es una adaptación–no resulta una traducción directa en muchos casos. Para empezar, una de las canciones de Ed Sheeran está aquí (por Kevin Karla y la banda) y hay otra aquí de Alejandro.
Nuestra escuela tiene una suscripción a BrainPop, la cual incluye la versión española de BrainPop. Pueden aprender y ver videos relevantes a lo que están aprendiendo en clase (o de lo que les interesa) y LEER los subtítulos. Esto es un poco más académico–depende de lo que buscas en cuanto a la lectura.
Educatina es otra opción educativa y muy semejante a Khan Academy, pero desafortunadamente, no hay cuenta del colegio.
En cualquier momento, los niños pueden utilizar los libros bilingües y españoles en la biblioteca de mi aula. No hay problema–solo le pido que ellos me avisen antes de tomar uno.
Esta PÁGINA de mi sitio web tiene un montón de chistes y enlaces. Hay un slideshow de mis chistes favoritos. Se ve mejor en un escritorio (desktop). Yo recuerdo que aprendí tanto vocabulario de Calvin y Hobbes cuando era niña (en inglés, claro, pero la traducción es muy buena) y ¡es muy divertido! Lo mejor es reír y aprender, en mi opinión.
Si está permitido en casa, dales la libertad de colgar pósters o imágenes con dichos/refranes que a ellos les gustan en sus recámaras.
Una idea más: crear/recopilar una carpeta llena de sus poemas favoritos, chistes favoritos, dichos/refranes favoritos, historietas favoritas, cuadros favoritos, adivinanzas favoritas, etc. Les paso unos enlaces aquí abajo para empezar su viaje. A lo mejor, ¡lo hacemos en clase! Para más ideas, piensen en lo siguiente:
PARTE II: Vas a recopilar una coleccion de todos tus ‘favoritos’ del español (en la misma carpeta que PARTE I, según ciertas categorías. Estas seran las categorias:
tu película favorita y el nombre del libro con capítulos que leíste este año
tu cuadro favorito (Xul Solar, Velázquez, El Greco, Goya, Salvador Dalí, Antonio Berni, Alejandro Obregón, Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, Joaquín Torres García, Picasso, Vik Muniz, etc.)
Ojalá que esto les ayude un poco. Hay que darse cuenta que esta no es una escuela de inmersión y muchas veces solo nos juntamos UNA VEZ a la semana. Por lo tanto, aprecio mucho cualquier apoyo pueden darles a sus hijos en casa ya que en primer lugar, no los veo con mucha frecuencia. Voy a requerir pronto que los hispanohablantes escriban en un diario (‘diary’) cada clase, algo semejante a un “RJ”. Escribir, escribir, escribir. Y cuando se cansen de eso, ¡A LEER!
This year, students in grades 3-5 have been using the language-learning app Duolingo to supplement their Spanish study. I want to lead by example, and therefore have chosen German to study alongside my students. While I have already invited faculty and staff to join me in a friendly in-house Language Challenge, I thought that it might be fun to include our parent community as well.
Here, participants (aka Language Ninja Warriors) are challenged to work on the Duolingo app for three days a week, for only five minutes each time. The goal here is frequency. Two hours a day is not sustainable long-term, anyway, unless you are a hyperpolyglot. (More about Timothy Doner HERE.) Point being, this could be a lot of fun for everyone if a lot of us participated, and it would start a lot of conversations with students as well. We could have pockets of language teams–people who are studying the same language–throughout the community.
That said,if you are interested: 1) choose a language to study; 2) download the Duolingo app; and 3) send me a quick email so that I know you are participating.
While this is only a 15-minute commitment per week, I completely understand and respect the fact that sometimes you have to say, “No”. This is merely a chance to grab onto that lifelong dream of wanting to learn another language… and encouraging you to get started. I will send quotes and messages from time to time to keep you motivated and on track. PLEASE keep in mind that this process should be primarily enjoyable. If you have had negative language-learning experiences in the past, or have ever said, “I took four years of XXX and can’t say anything”, let this be an opportunity to clear the slate and begin anew. Here is a quote from Kató Lomb (an amazing Hungarian hyperpolyglot) to consider:
“We should learn languages because language is the only thing worth knowing even poorly. If someone knows how to play the violin only a little, he will find that the painful minutes he causes are not in proportion to the possible joy he gains from his playing. The amateur chemist spares himself ridicule only as long as he doesn’t aspire for professional laurels. The man somewhat skilled in medicine will not go far, and if he tries to trade on his knowledge without certification, he will be locked up as a quack doctor.
Solely in the world of languages is the amateur of value. Well-intentioned sentences full of mistakes can still build bridges between people. Asking in broken Italian which train we are supposed to board at the Venice railway station is far from useless. Indeed, it is better to do that than to remain uncertain and silent and end up back in Budapest rather than in Milan.” (POLYGLOT: HOW I LEARN LANGUAGES– book in PDF, by Kató Lomb)
Please let me know if you would like to participate. Happy language learning!
-Your Resident Linguist
Week #2: Jump!
DUOLINGO: The Language Challenge is picking up speed. I have already talked with many parents, faculty, and staff interested in joining this friendly competition. Thinking about everyone beginning a language-learning journey and working towards a common goal is motivating in itself, but I thought I might share a few tips or pieces of advice each week, to help keep you–and me!–on track.
WEEK #2: This week, commit to a set timeduring the day when you will either 1) work on the Duolingo app; or 2) listen to your target language for five minutes (e.g. Pocoyo cartoons, radio, internet, podcast, YT channels, etc.). This exercise could easily be built into a family routine–before or after dinner, during your commute–or, alternatively, a more private practice (before anyone gets up in the morning). Remember, five minutes 3-4 times per week is more than enough. Commit to establishing a routine. Just do it–jump!
When you listen to the target language, the idea is to become accustomed to hearing a bullet train of unintelligible sounds pass you by at the speed of light (squared), and simply enjoy the cadence and rhythm. Relax. As the days pass, your brain will begin to pick up on details and cognates (words that sound similar in English), and do a lot of subconscious work. If you studied your target language in school at some point, you might begin to recall vocabulary from a lifetime ago, or distinguish between accents from different countries. Duolingo will build your vocabulary phrase by phrase; listening to the target language will train your ear.
Anyway, thank you for reading. Until next time, create and stick to your language-learning schedule. YOU CAN DO IT! And last but not least, remember that, “We should learn languages because language is the only thing worth knowing even poorly” (-Kató Lomb, hyperpolyglot).
Week #3: Setting a Pace
DUOLINGO: I have just discovered that you can follow people on Duolingo in order to compete by number of EXP points. If you are the competitive type, search your friends’ emails and add them. I didn’t think I was that competitive… until I saw the division I was in [shield icon] and wanted to get to number one! Try it on for size, if you like.
WEEK #3: Hopefully, you have started to establish a language-learning routine. Now, the race has truly begun. After a few dozen times around the track (metaphorically speaking), you will begin to notice oddities, or so-called quirks in your target language. Many of these will fall in the category of syntax–the arrangement of words and phrases in language; or, how language is organized–that differs from your native tongue. “Juice of orange/jugo de naranja” instead of orange juice (Spanish); “I doctor/Я доктор”, instead of “I am a doctor” (Russian); “Electric brain/电脑“, instead of “computer” (Mandarin Chinese). You may not be here yet, but when you arrive, try to be flexible in your thinking. “We” are not any more right than “they” are. This is where the beautiful flower of language begins to blossom.
In addition, there can also be more nebulous types of translations, or even completely untranslatable phrases. Regarding the former, Spanish does not have as many words as English, so one word can encompass numerous meanings and nuances; in English, we might have a more specific term. In fact, I have heard before that Swahili is incredibly metaphorical because it only has 5,000 words. Spanish has many more than 5,000 words–rough estimates might say 150,000 words in Spanish. Below, see a few more thoughts on the subject:
With respect to untranslatable words, komorebi/木漏れ日 (in Japanese) means ‘sunlight that filters through the leaves of trees’; there is no English equivalent. Pisanzapra (in Malay) is the time needed to eat a banana. In case you are interested, Ella Frances Sanders has two books devoted entirely to this fascinating topic. Here is one of my favorite untranslatable words:
Week #4: Climb the Mountain
DUOLINGO: You have courageously jumped into a new language. You have begun to set a pace. Now is the time to make some serious progress and climb the mountain. If you are a numbers person, note that staying in the top 10 of your division (by number of EXP points) in Duolingo allows you to advance each week to a new division. Moreover, earning a gold, silver, or bronze shield this way earns you A TON of gems. Climb to the top!
WEEK #4: This week, visit your local library and take some time to see what language-learning resources are available. I would highly recommend checking out the children’s foreign language section, along with the 400’s (Language) in the adult section, and also DVD’s, CD’s, and audiobooks for your target language. Be a Word Detective and scan the children’s books for words you know, not words you don’t. They will jump out at you! I checked out some audiobooks for German (Pimsleur) recently as well, and they are so much fun to listen to and repeat aloud, both intentionally and randomly.
Repeating words aloud allows you to get a sense for the feel, character, and personality of a language. For example, when I repeat a word, it helps me to get into the character of that language. Not only does your language have its own personality, but you also have a slightly different personality with each language you speak: that said, do not shy away from a ‘you’ that is more bold, or less so, in your target language. I tend to be more introverted in English and more extroverted in Spanish, while German feels strong and robust: I may not know what I am saying, but I will be confident, that is for sure–ja, voll! What personality traits does your new language bring out in you? What does it feel like?
Shouting random words and phrases aloud may seem silly at first, but it builds confidence and is also a technique used by some hyperpolyglots (people who speak and have studied an extreme number of languages). Accomplished linguist Alexander Arguelles employs this technique: “In [shadowing], students listen to language recordings on a portable player while briskly walking in a public place, gesticulating energetically as they shout out the foreign words and phrases they are listening to” (Babel No More, Michael Erard).
If you do not feel comfortable shouting in a public place, a more private venue is equally effective. Just make sure to repeat the words out loud. Queens, NYC has the most concentrated number of languages spoken in the world–simply imagine that you are there. You won’t understand everyone around you, ergo they won’t understand you, either. For more ear training, feel free to check out these videos by Amy Walker, an American actress and accent specialist: 21 Accents and Fun Tour of American Accents. She is amazing!
This week’s focus, then? Remember that yes, you are climbing a mountain, and yes, it will be tough to keep to a schedule some days. HOWEVER, that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun along the way. Enjoy the climb!
Week #5: Numbers
WEEK #5- NUMBERS: Learning a language is not an overnight project. It is not even a project where there is a clear telos, or end point. You just keep chipping away at your own pace, and the graph naturally swings up and down: you make a lot of progress, a little progress, plateau, and then make more progress. At some point, you are able to communicate the bare minimum to survive in another land. Later on down the road, your thoughts drift into the target language. Your confidence improves, and you start to feel good, really good, about your proficiency level. Fluency is somewhere out there, but it is not easily defined (see this post).
Now on this journey, life can get in the way. You must deal with more pressing matters and day-to-day tasks, and before you know it, language-learning has slipped between the cracks. Duolingo? Oh yeah, that… whoops. Taking a break and allowing your new language to settle into the long-term memory portion of your cerebral region is actually crucial to success. (Isn’t there a weird satisfaction in knowing that not doing anything is justified?!) Why you took a break is irrelevant. Maybe you broke a toe last week (true fact). Maybe you are just being lazy (partially true). Maybe cleaning the house took precedence (most definitely). Whatever the reason, give yourself permission to pause and then, get back on the horse. Picking yourself up and continuing where you left off is key to success; this is where and when you will make the most progress.
It can be helpful to visualize your daily highs and lows to keep things in perspective. Initially, the language-learning process probably sounds like this–Yesss, progress! Nooooo, I forgot that word. Yes, now I remember! Up-down-up-down ad infinitum–and looks like the graph below, or f(x)=(cosx^2+3).
Fastforward a few weeks later. Despite your studying, you feel like you’re going in circles, so many circles. You know it’s all leading somewhere–where [0,0] is your target language–but it feels like nothing is happening. X means apple, Y means eats, Z means girl, A keeps popping up but the exact translation remains unclear. Rules are scattered in your mind, and none of the pieces seem to fit together. I just want to speak! You attack the language from all sides, but there seems to be no progress, just a pretty design and neat mathematical function [r > (sin (a/b)(θ)), where 0 < θ < 12π and a=5 and b=6].
And then, finally, your two-dimensional rose becomes a spiraling logarithmic beauty! Something clicks inside, and you begin to connect the dots; information that seemed irrevelant suddenly has a place; you create your first sentence in the target language! It is magical! You are no longer spinning in circles but rather, living in 3D, spiraling out into the universe, empowered by your language-learning prowess, ready to take on the world, maybe even ask a native speaker a question. Wunderbar/wonderful! [r = a^θ, where 0 < θ < 12π and a=1.25].
This is, undoubtedly, a Math Tangent on this weeks’ Language Blog, but… sometimes you need a new perspective. You need to step back, recognize your progress, and then consciously decide to keep moving forward toward your goal. Your task this week, then, is about moving past fear, moving past failures, moving past guilt, just keep moving. Forgive yourself for the breaks and silly excuses, and get back on the horse. There is a whole world (read: language) out there to explore!
My Dear Friends, Fellow Linguists, and Citizens of the World:
Welcome back! I hope you are having (and have had) a wonderfully adventurous summer. As we look forward to the start of another school year, there are a few things I would like to share with you. For any new families, I am “Señorita”, the Spanish teacher for grades PK-5.
First, you may have noticed the image at the top of this page. It is of The Temples of Mount Fanjing in southwestern China. If there is any conversation that you have with your child(ren) about Spanish class before school begins, please remind them that–much like the 8,000-step trek to the top of this mountain–language-learning is a journey. Fluency does not occur overnight. It is a process where, after many successes, failures, and moments of uncertainty, coupled with much determination, grit, and hard work, progress is made. If your child can learn just one new thing each day in class, they will be well on their way.
Second, I will communicate with you through Seesaw and my website. I have spent a good deal of time this summer revamping my site; please take a look when you get a chance. There are numerous language-learning and cultural resources there, Language Blog articles, a slideshow of last year’s Spanish class at the bottom of the Photo Gallery page, as well as photo collages of my own travels overseas on the “About” tab. If there is a linguistic topic you would like to see addressed, please do not hesitate to contact me via email.
Third, if your child will be in third, fourth, or fifth grade and does not have a Duolingo or Memrise account, please have them open a free account for Spanish before the first day of school. We will be using these accounts throughout the year. PLEASE NOTE that if your child is a native speaker and already very fluent, they may either choose a different language to study, and/or wait to meet with me individually. For younger students, check out this page for 20+ games and apps.
Fourth, Hispanic Heritage Month begins September 15th, and to that end, I would love to continue the Parent Speaker Series from last year. Please read THIS POST for more information and if you have any connection at all to one of the 21 Spanish-speaking countries in our world. I would love to hear from you!
And last but not least, for anyone wondering why you should learn another language, please read the following for a hearty laugh.
My Dear Friends, Fellow Linguists, and Citizens of the World:
WE LIVE in a World of Words, where every conversation, every interaction, everything we read and hear is, ultimately, a story of our lives.
Some are stories of heartbreak, others of adventure, wonder, or joy; some are apathetic, others filled with purpose and intention. Our stories change course frequently, and expand from the microcosm of our personal selves and family histories, to the stories of our world. Our identities emerge from the stories we tell ourselves and hear, and the words we use frame these stories, to create the essence of who we are, as individuals and as a human race. Our stories have a past, present, and future. Whether or not we realize it, we are all storytellers—because in the end, our lives come alive in and through language.
With all of this in mind, and instead of sending home worksheets or grammar packets this summer, I have compiled a list of ideas to weave the Spanish language and culture into your own personal story. I want you to make your story powerful, adventurous, and loving, but most of all, to make it yours, and remember who is telling it. If you are bored with your day, your story, then change it. The world is your oyster! We must remember that we are the superheroes of our own narratives. As the saying goes, “When something goes wrong in your life, just yell, ‘Plot twist!’ and move on”. Move on to a new chapter, a better story…
Below, please pick and choose what fits in your story. Some ideas might resonate, and others might not. As always, though, know that every activity outlined below is 100% optional. Each one is meant to enhance your own story.
1) For a GLOWING story: Try a Bioluminescent Kayaking Tour. Bioluminescence is a natural phenomenon caused by algae that makes the water light up when touched (or “disturbed”). A land example of this would be the light emitted by fireflies. While lightning bugs are found around the world, “water” bioluminescence is much more scarce. It is famously found in Puerto Rico (Mosquito Bioluminescent Bay, on the Island of Vieques), but can be seen in other places as well, especially when there is little to no moonlight. Check out this video HERE if you have never seen it before–and let me know if you take the tour!
2) For a MUSICAL story: Let’s continue jazzing up your summer story by adding some new music. For starters, visit the link below* for pop songs translated/ adapted from English to Spanish. Visit this page for more songs in Spanish, and here for songs in languages that are not English. Also, if you have any translation requests or song suggestions (clean lyrics only), please let me know.
3) For a MESSY story: There is a special montaña/mountain in Peru called Vinicunca, or Rainbow Mountain, located near Machu Picchu. The mountain has a unique mineral composition that makes the range appear like the inside of a jawbreaker! For this project, the goal is to make a piece of artwork to represent Vinicunca, using THIS amazing video as a guide. If you have a lot of paint lying around in the garage, put down a big tarp on the floor and start pouring! Make sure to ask your parents before you start this very messy project. And if you end up covered in paint with a product that did not turn out exactly as you planned, do not despair: at least you got a good story out of it!
4) For a FAMILY story: Ask your parents if they have ever traveled to another country. If they have, see if you can find tickets, receipts, foreign currency*, brochures, postcards, magnets, or anything else from their trip. If it was a long time ago, this might turn into a TREASURE HUNT type of story! After you collect a few souvenirs, either decorate or buy a small decorative box to put them inside. Ask your parents to tell you stories about their adventures overseas. If your parents have NOT traveled, use the same decorative box as a “Vision Board”, where you put names and photos of places you would like to travel to inside.
*ASIDE: I never know what to do with foreign coins–and after 13 or 14 countries, I have collected quite a few! To get cash for your change, check out THIS link.
5) For a HISTORICAL story: Visit the Henry B. Plant Museum in Tampa to explore their exhibit on the Spanish-American War and Its Tampa Connection. It will be around until February of 2027, so do not worry if you can’t get there right away!
6) For a DELICIOUS story: Try visually documenting a Food Tour of at least FIVE Spanish-speaking restaurants. In other words, visit a Cuban restaurant one day, have a meal, and take a picture of your plate. Next, visit a Venezuelan restaurant, have a meal, and take a picture of your plate. Next, visit a Mexican restaurant, have a meal, and take a picture of your plate. Do this five times. Try a food, drink, or dessert you haven’t tried before at each place, and make sure to write down what it is called (in case you really like it and want to order it again someday!). Any authentic restaurants (no Taco Bell!) from the 21 Spanish-speaking countries are game here. Have fun!
7) For a DIGITAL story: Change all of your devices to Spanish (go to Settings –> General –> Language and Region –> Spanish)… and keep it that way for as long as you can. How long can you last? An hour? A day? A week? A month? All summer? If you are feeling especially motivated, sign up for (or continue working on, if you are in Summit) Duolingo or Memrise, and see how many days in a row you can keep up with it. The first day or two is easy, but after that, you might be tempted to quit. Remember, consistency is key when learning a language; the more frequently you keep at it, the stronger and smarter your brain will get! Make it a game, choose a goal, and then reward yourself with a prize when you stick with it for five or more days in a row, or three times a week, etc.
8) For a TRAVEL story: Check out Universal Yums!, where you order snacks from a different country every month. The fun part is, you never know where they are coming from next, or what you will get in a box–every country has its own ideas about what are tasty snacks! Please note that this website includes countries from all around the world (and not only Spanish-speaking cultures).
9) For an ARTISTIC story: Take a field trip with your family and explore the Salvador Dalí Museum, and then try to recreate some of his works yourself. See how creative you can get!
10) For a DIFFERENT story: Take a break and consider someone else’s story. Choose from this list of Spanish Movies for Kids, with G and PG rated titles and a blogger’s commentary on the films.
For more linguistic-oriented activities, check out THIS LINK. And if you are interested in my story, please read THIS POST. Have fun, be safe, and see you in August! I wish you happiness wherever your story takes you.
LANGUAGE-LEARNING IS HARD- TRUE OR FALSE?: We live in an ‘instant-gratification’ society these days. In a way, the time it takes to pronounce the word ‘instant’ is counterproductive to the actual definition of the word. When people claim that language-learning is hard, they tend to mean that they have to wait for what they want. We can’t instantly download every aspect of a language–grammar, syntax, vocabulary, intonation, tones, etc.–into our brains [at least not yet], so the language-learning process becomes frustrating. We have to wait for these linguistic pieces, or ‘documents’, to load and then synthesize… which gives the impression that language-learning is ‘hard’. In reality, it just takes more time to ‘download’ than many are willing to wait. But we all accepted dial-up at one point in time, so just wait it out. It will be worth the tried patience.
How We Learn Language
When friends or relatives hear that you are learning a foreign language, the first question they invariably ask is, “What can you say?” Unfortunately, and although usually well-intentioned, this is the wrong question. As you stammer and mutter about what you are learning in your class, instead of producing actual language, mortification settles in and you ask to be excused. What a pity, right? You know you are learning, but you can’t say anything.
Stop for a second now and think about how you learned language as a baby. Did anyone ask you on Day #1 what you could say? What about Day #200? If you are the student, give yourself a break. Babies must hear a lot of language before they begin speaking; the same is true for you. Likewise, if you know someone who is learning a new language, give them a break. Show your enthusiasm and encouragement, but avoid pressuring them to produce language. Keep in mind that the emotional connection grows deeper and more profound as you grow older (and spend more time with a language). The same is true in your native tongue. You gain more insight and knowledge of cultural nuances every day. Fascinating, isn’t it?
Update: For photos of my Camino adventures, visit THIS PAGE.
My Dearest Friends:
As most of you know, I will not be returning next year. I have loved teaching here, but I also love learning and traveling and exploring, and need to go see the world. That said, I care deeply for each and every one of your children, and would like to leave a final Spanish Summer Packet Challenge that parallels the first part of this new chapter of my life.
My adventures will begin in St. Jean-Pied-du-Port (France), where I will start walking El Camino de Santiago (The Way of St. James). El Camino is a 500 mile walk or pilgrimage across northern Spain that begins by crossing the Pyrenees Mountains (France/Spain border). It typically takes pilgrims thirty days to complete the walk on foot and arrive in Santiago de Compostela, España. To that end, students will have the opportunity to walk “with me” over the summer by completing specific challenges that correspond to mileage and geographic locations. (Pato will obviously be coming along—but primarily for the food and to post selfies on Instagram.)
1) Preparation: It is strongly recommended for anyone walking to have a special passport book specific to the Camino. The albergues (hostels for pilgrims) stamp your book each night so that you have a personalized record of where you stayed; it is also a nice memento, as every stamp is unique. Your first challenge, then, is to create a small passport booklet with five or ten pages to keep track of where you travel this summer. After you visit a place—local or overseas—design a miniature sticker/stamp/little picture to represent that place, and copy it into your passport booklet. If you are going to travel out of state, make one per state or country. If you are staying put, make one for each town you visit!
2) Preparation: Imagine that you are going on this walk for real: what would you pack? There are restaurants and stores along the way, so you do not need to carry much food, but water is a necessity during the hot summer months in Spain, and you must fit everything you need into a single backpack. Make a list and then… get packing! Encourage your family and/or friends to participate, and to complete this challenge, go on an actual hike with your bag and a friend. Make sure you wear comfortable shoes!
3) Week 1 (Crossing the Pyrenees Mountains from France into Spain): Play this Language Game online at least three times. Here you will learn to recognize the world’s languages, one language at a time. Around 8,000 people walk El Camino during July, so I will be surrounded by many, many languages. This challenge is meant to mimic jumping into this incomprehensible but delightful swirl of linguistic happiness. High scores do not matter here; just have fun guessing!
4) Week 1: Pamplona, Spain is perhaps most famous for its celebration of San Fermín and the annual Running of the Bulls. This tradition, although a huge part of Spanish culture, is highly controversial. This challenge asks you to read a Wikipedia or Scholastic article and watch a short YouTube video about the Running of the Bulls, and then debate the topic with your family with Paso Doblemusic playing in the background. Do you see the nobility of the beast and the elegance of the bullfight, or do you see animal cruelty? Whatever your stance, start a conversation and try to understand both perspectives.
5) Week 2: An exciting part of traveling is getting to see and try different types of foods. What is “normal” to you is “strange” to others, and vice-versa. In Spain, tapas—also called pinchos when pierced with toothpicks—are found in many restaurants. They are snacks arranged in small dishes, and have an interesting history: a long time ago, many people were illiterate, so travelers going from one inn to the next could not read the menus; instead, they were given little plates to sample different types of food before ordering their meal. This challenge is to pretend you are in Spain and recreate tapas in your own kitchen. There are countless options, so find a few that you like, and have a little fiesta, or party. Some ideas include mixed olives and cheese; skewers with pickles; fried baby squid; mushrooms sautéed in garlic and oil, etc.—see more options HERE. Enjoy!
6) Week 2: The scallop shell is the symbol of the Camino, and represents the many paths pilgrims travel to reach one destination, namely, Santiago de Compostela. Pilgrims attach a scallop to their backpacks, and follow the shell symbol on the Camino to stay on the right path. While I do not care where you purchase your petrol, I like seeing the Shell gas station signs around town, and pretend that when I see one, I know I am on the right road. This challenge asks you to go to the beach and see if you can find a scallop shell. If this is not an option, Bed Bath & Beyond (among other stores) also sells them!
7) Week 3: Typical walking hours for the Camino are usually 5am-1pm (due to the extreme summer heat). After that, pilgrims find a place to stay for the night, eat together, and rest their tired, blistered feet. Many people take a book along with them to read in the afternoons and later exchange with other pilgrims. Don Quijote de la Mancha is the main character in a very famous, very old, 900-page novel that takes place in Spain. While the literary masterpiece is probably too heavy to carry in book form, and the language the Spanish equivalent of Elizabethan English, it is world-renowned and well worth learning about. This challenge is to watch three chapters about Don Quijote on YouTube. What is your “impawssible” dream? “One day or Day One?”
8) Week 3: Did you think you were going to be able to survive only on tapas for 500 miles? Think again! This challenge is to cook a more complete meal: either una tortilla española or un bocadillo. The tortilla española is similar to an omelet, but much thicker and a very hearty breakfast. A bocadillo is an inexpensive and simple but delicious sandwich—I like to add pickles on mine! Note that “boca” means mouth in Spanish. If have some time on your hands and are interested in dessert, flan and churros (dipped in chocolate or dulce de leche) are also eaten in Spain. Yum!
*“History is divided on how exactly churros came to exist. Some say they were the invention of nomadic Spanish shepherds. Living high in the mountains with no access to bakeries, the Spanish shepherds supposedly created churros, which were easy for them to cook in frying pans over fire. Lending credibility to this version of history is the fact that there exists a breed of sheep called the ‘Navajo-Churro’, which are descended from the ‘Churra’ sheep of the Iberian Peninsula; the horns of these sheep look similar to the fried pastry.
Another story says that Portuguese sailors discovered a similar food in Northern China called ‘Yóu Tiáo’ and they brought it back with them. The Spanish learned of the new culinary treat from their neighbors, and put their own spin on it by passing the dough through a star-shaped tip which gives the churro its signature ridges.” (source).
9) Week 4: There are lush, rolling forests of Eucalyptus trees near the end of the Camino to welcome you into the final city of Santiago de Compostela. It is said that “the popular Spanish name for the astronomical Milky Way is El Camino de Santiago. According to a common medieval legend, the Milky Way was formed from the dust raised by traveling pilgrims” (Wikipedia). It makes perfect sense, then, that “Compostela” would mean field of stars. Two of my friends who walked the Camino last year told me that the smell of Eucalyptus is incredibly strong here. This challenge is to find Eucalyptus oil at a store and take a whiff of one of the samplers. Now imagine that scent times five million, and that is probably what I am smelling right now.
10) Week 4: There are hours upon hours to talk to people on the Camino, but when you get tired of that, many play music to pass the time. In northern Spain, five languages are spoken, namely, Spanish, Galician, Basque (Euskara), Aranès, and Catalan. For me, listening to languages I do not understand acts as a “brain break” and feels refreshing somehow; it helps to clear my mind. This challenge is to listen to a few of the songs below, and think about what makes you happy. Then, do something nice for a family member or friend—in other words, make someone else happy! If they want to ‘repay’ you with a gift, tell them to pay it forward. Regardless of the language you speak, always remember: “Kindness is a language the deaf can hear and the blind can see” (Mark Twain).
**Quechua is an indigenous language spoken in the Andes Mountains and highlands of South America (and NOT Spain), but this young girl with a powerful voice is revitalizing her mother tongue through music; read the full story HERE.
My hope is that this Spanish Summer Packet reinforces the fact that language-learning is a journey. Do not be overly concerned with arriving, or that magical destination called Fluency. With hard work and passion, you will get there, I promise. Just never ever give up, ever! And in the meantime, revel in the magic of the present moment: enjoy the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures along the way… and “hashtag happiness” wherever you go (#happiness). We are all on this journey together, and I am grateful to have met each and every one of you. Be well, have a wonderful summer, fall, winter, spring, and life—and please keep in touch!
With all due respect, this question and its answer are not as simple or black-and-white as some would want to believe. Let’s consider its three main flaws.
1) This is not an immersion school. While its language classes may be taught 95-100% in the target language, these classes are language-specific, and not the medium of instruction for other subjects (fluency as such is possible at a much faster rate when the bulk of the day is spent in the target language). Language classes at this school are similar to Math or Science or Music classes in that there is an allotted time for each one. Specifically, Spanish classes meet twice a week (1st-5th) for 45 minutes each class. While this is impressive compared to many other elementary language programs out there, it is also misleading for both students and parents to claim that “Joey has been taking Spanish for seven years now”–meaning he began in PK and is now in fifth grade. Why is this misleading? Most people are highly disappointed upon discovering that “Joey” is not yet fluent in the target language, most of all, Joey himself. However, has he actually been taking Spanish for seven years? Let’s be realistic here and tally up the minutes, just for kicks and giggles.
Total Class Minutes
Minutes per 24 hour day = 24×60
CLASS DAYS(not including snow days or holidays)
Conclusion? In reality, students spend about two weeks with the target language over the course of seven years, or the equivalent of an extended vacation in Mexico (i.e., full immersion, or 24/7 in the target language, and this is assuming you are not speaking to your child in English on the trip). As I’ve mentioned numerous times before, does a baby speak two weeks out of the womb? Why are you pressuring your child to produce the target language so soon? This is discouraging for all parties involved. In doing so, you implicitly emphasize that the product is more important than the process, or journey, and moreover, that language learning and acquisition ought to happen overnight; but quite frankly, this is not the case. This sets up your student to buy into the ‘instant-gratification’ mentality; instead, let’s encourage our children and students to develop the strength of character to persevere in the long (but worthwhile) process of language acquisition. Inspire and motivate, but remember that linguistically, even as a fifth grader, your child is still an infant…
2) Now, let’s talk about fluency. Online dictionaries define fluency with increasingly vague terms, “the ability to express oneself easily and articulately” or even better, “the ability to speak or write a foreign language easily and accurately”. Well, which is it? Does fluency encompass speaking or writing–or both? There are many translators out there who very precisely transfer highly technical, written documents from one language to another with tremendous skill, yet who do not speak the language. Can they claim fluency? What about oral cultures? Are people whose languages lack a written form not fluent?
Even if we concede on the “the ability to speak OR write a foreign language”, the question of “easily and accurately” still poses a great deal of ambiguity. In what venue, exactly? I would be lost at sea in English at a medical conference (borborygmi?), just as many would fare poorly at a philosophical one (solipsism?). In general conversation, perhaps a majority of English speakers–[as evidenced through close observation with people of all education levels, and even in television shows and Hollywood blockbusters]–use “there is” or “there’s” with plurals on a regular basis. In some regions of the Midwest, people eliminate “to be” altogether (“the paper needs turned in”, “the house needs painted”). Yes, I may be a language prude, but in terms of fluency, those are both grammatically incorrect. And what about slang? Who is fluent in their native tongue, anyway?
Obviously, someone who can only ask, “Where is the bathroom?” is not fluent in that language, but when exactly are they? It is not an easy question. Consider a four-year-old: “The typical four-year-old child will have about a 1,500-1,600-word vocabulary. […] By the time a child is 12 years old, he/she will understand (have a receptive vocabulary) of about 50,000 words” (Vocabulary Chart). A ninth grader will not learn the same 1,500-1,600 words in a language that a four-year-old learns on the playground and at school, and each four-year-old’s vocabulary differs as well (though understandably and at a certain point, they do share a common pool). That said, how can we compare these ‘common pools’ of vocabulary from school to school, when each teacher and school focuses on different words and teaching methodologies? “Fluency levels” are eventually determined and assessed on the national AP exams, but until then, we remain in the black hole of, as Saussure so elegantly phrases it, “a vague, uncharted nebula”.
3) Lastly, intrinsic and extrinsic motivational factors definitely play a role. And yet, I have heard numerous times, “Why does my child not speak to me in Spanish at home?” Let’s be honest: do you speak the target language to them? I ask the question not to be rude, but rather as a reminder of what is logical. General politeness mandates that you speak to others in a language they understand. Therefore, it would be wholly nonsensical for your child to blabber to you on a regular basis in the language they are learning, as they do not associate you with the target language. Vocabulary recall in your presence is oftentimes more challenging simply because it seems out of place. The brain constantly networks and categorizes knowledge, information, and sensory input. Think about it: how many times has SEEING someone jogged your memory? So visual associations actually play a legitimate role here. Students remember vocabulary in their teacher’s presence, but at home or in a restaurant, it proves more taxing for the brain, if not practiced consistently.
Extrinsic factors, then, include you pressuring your child to translate words at unexpected times and in unexpected places. Putting him or her on the spot to produce the target language is 1) having unreasonable expectations (see fluency above); and 2) not being considerate of the fact that you probably aren’t associated with the target language amidst your child’s cerebral gray matter. That said, do you encourage their study? Do you encourage them to have fun during the process? Do you talk about languages and multi-lingual people in a positive light? Whether your child speaks another language at home (besides English) is yet another contributing factor…
Intrinsic factors are simply motivation-related: does your child have an interest in language(s)? Do they want to spend time outside of class reviewing, practicing, prancing around the house or running up and down the stairs reciting vocabulary and shouting creative, ridiculous sentences in the target language? As a language teacher, my hope is YES!, but I am highly aware that this is not the case for everyone. This is, however, definitely a factor and can accelerate the language-learning process by leaps and bounds.
To sum up, then, no–I cannot give you a date and time when your child will be fluent–or even conversational–in the target language, just as you could not predict the moment when your child would stutter or stammer their first word or complete sentence in their native tongue. This treatise is not meant to lower your expectations of what your child will learn here, but rather to give a more realistic assessment of and appreciation for the process of learning/acquiring another language. It is not as simple as ‘downloading vocabulary’ and then ‘outputting’ a random combination of sounds or letters. Consider, then, Lower School as the ‘formative years’ [input], or ages 0-2: their brains are receiving a great deal of information re: language rhythms, cadence, vocabulary, grammar, syntax, and intonation, coupled with gestures, culture, and meaningful contexts. It will take a while for their neural matter to sort out everything. So please refrain from pressuring your child to speak, unless he or she wants to: children are wildflowers, and will bloom when they are ready.
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.
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)
Learning a language is a beast of a project to undertake. In addition to reading, writing, speaking, and listening—with countless vocabularies, dialects, and accents to untangle—you also have cultural layers and sublayers to sort through. It takes time and patience, and a willingness to understand that learning a language does not happen overnight. You must surround yourself with the language and culture every day, keep your study at the forefront of your mind, and use those blips of nothingness while waiting in line to try and recall what you last studied. An impossible task? No. Challenging, yes—but impossible, never! *For inspiration, read Why I Taught Myself 20 Languages, by Timothy Doner.
In metaphorical terms, then, you must slay the dragon. This summer, Lower School students are encouraged to keep their language study alive by ‘slaying the dragon’. Below you will find a series of language-related challenges. Upon completing each challenge, students may color in a section of the dragon. The dragon is slayed when all sections are colored in. Please hang the dragon picture in a visible or high-traffic area of your household, to remind students to continue their study. The challenge commences on the first day of summer, so if students have already done something on the list, they are asked to do it again.
1) Watch a movie in the target language, with Spanish voiceover and English subtitles. Note: you are welcome to change both to Spanish, but quite often, the translations are done in different countries: what you are hearing is not what you are reading. This can be incredibly confusing and frustrating for a beginner; it is more important right now for students to listen to the language: input, input, input! If your family does not want to watch the movie in Spanish with you, ask to invite some friends over. ¡Fiesta!
2) Label ten things in your house in Spanish. Use WordReference or Google Translate to look up the correct spelling. Make sure to include the “el” or “la” word–for example, la mesa/the table. Listen to the pronunciation so you know how to say it!
3) Prepare a traditional recipe with your family from a Spanish-speaking country. Make it interesting and try something new that you have never had before. Guacamole? Patacones? Tres leches cake? Gallo pinto? Horchata? Churros? Enjoy the process of searching for a recipe (appetizer? drink? main course? dessert?), buying ingredients you may have never heard of before, and then preparing it as a family. There tends to be a big focus on family and community in Latin American households, so make sure that everyone helps out. The more, the merrier!
4) Find a Spanish language-learning app that you like, and then level-up three levels to complete this challenge. Here are a few suggestions for apps: Duolingo, Memrise, FluentU, and/or MindSnacks.
5) Ask to schedule a family night out at a local Mexican/Cuban/Spanish-speaking restaurant. Then, either order in Spanish (if you already know how), or ask the waiter a few questions and learn how! Most people are more than willing to share their linguistic knowledge. To complete this challenge, take a picture of the food you ordered. (Note: there is no way for me to know with 100% certainty that you actually ordered in Spanish, so I am trusting you to be honest with yourself on this one.)
6) #10daychallenge: practice counting backwards or skip counting in Spanish whenever you brush your teeth for ten days in a row. Do NOT count aloud, or else you will spit out the toothpaste foam and get in trouble for making a big mess! Instead, count in your head—cero, dos, cuatro, seis, ocho, diez, doce; uno, tres, cinco, siete, nueve, once. If you don’t know the numbers very well, ask your parents to help you look them up on the computer so you know how they are spelled and pronounced. The point is to challenge yourself, so if 0-10 is too easy, work on something a bit more difficult. (100-200-300-400-500, etc.)
7) Go with your parents when they run errands or go shopping, and look for signs in English and Spanish. When you see one, write it down or ask your parents to take a picture of the sign with their phone. Find five signs, and you get to color in another section of the dragon! If you are not sure where to start, everything from the plumbing section to the magazine rack at Lowe’s is labeled in English and Spanish. The doors to—and other directional signs throughout—J.C. Penney’s at the mall are bilingual. Caution signs for wet floors are often in multiple languages. Airports have a million signs. Keep your eyes open!!
8) Listen to a Spanish radio station (87.7 FM) or podcast for twenty minutes and write down five words you understand. Don’t stop listening when you get to five words—you have to listen for the whole twenty minutes! Keep in mind that this could be five minutes a day for four days; it does not have to be all at once. What does Spanish sound like to you? Rap music? Raindrops?
9) Visit your local library and/or bookstore, and ask where the children’s foreign language section is located. Spend at least ten minutes flipping through the books and trying to find words you know—be a word detective! The locallibrary has a huge Spanish section. Half-Price Books also has decent collections, but they are mixed in with other languages, so you really have to pay attention to know what language you are looking at. Tip: look at the copyright page to find out where the book was published, and then ask your parents what country that city is in. If it’s a Spanish-speaking country, the book is probably written in Spanish.
10) Make miniature weather signs in Spanish (with pictures!), and be a meteorologist: post the appropriate weather sign on the window every day for a week. See AccuWeather in Spanish for vocabulary, or use the guide below:
a. Hace sol: it’s sunny (“ahh-say soul”) b. Está despejado: it’s clear (“es-TAH dehs-pay-HAH-doe”) c. Llueve: it’s raining (“you-A-bay”) d. Está nublado: it’s cloudy (“es-TAH new-BLAH-doe”)
Now hang this on your refrigerator or bookmark it on your computer before it gets lost. Your support and enthusiasm for the foreign language program are greatly appreciated. Have a wonderful summer, and be happy.