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 or linguistic/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 M., (Miss M), 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.
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!
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.
Let me introduce you to my fantasy self. She is an avid hiker. Weekends are spent camping under the stars, and she knows the trails in her area better than the roads to work. She can walk with a pack on her back for 20, 30, 40km without tiring. She spends more time outdoors than indoors, and when she is inside, dreams of inhaling fresh air and the light scent of gardenias floating through a field in the middle of nowhere.
I love my fantasy self. The problem is, she is not real. Don’t get me wrong- I have hiked before (500 miles*, in fact), and I spent much of my childhood running through the back woods of Maine: being covered in bug bites and scratches from blackberry bushes just meant it was a great day, filled with adventure and fun. I own a bevy of camping gear, and binge YT documentaries on the Pacific Crest Trail, Appalachian Trail, and Continental Divide from time to time.
The unrelenting Spanish sun beat down on me as I wiped the sweat from my forehead for the umpteenth time, wondering what in the world 44*C was in Fahrenheit. [It turned out to be 110*F.] So this is why they have the siesta, I thought. My brother and I were the only ones walking around the city streets of Granada that afternoon, foolishly searching for tapas and a place to spend the night, when everything was very clearly closed. Scholar-me knew that the siesta existed, knew that it was a part of Spanish culture, but to live it was something entirely different. The “CERRADO” (closed) signs weren’t really necessary: heavy iron doors and gates prevented anyone from even looking inside.
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.
I have a very strained relationship with technology. On the one hand, and in light of the current circumstances, we are very fortunate to have this tool with which to communicate and share information around the world. And in general, I enjoy blogging and researching, and appreciate having an infinite number of resources at my fingertips. It is amazing what humankind has been able to accomplish.
On the other hand, there are several serious societal ramifications that keep me up at night. I put them here in list form to pose questions, not solve the world’s problems. They are simply to consider.
1) Privacy–what does this mean to society nowadays? Are you aware that your private information (IP address histories, birthdate, all former and current addresses, name, etc.) is sold on a regular basis–and that companies make huge profits off of this metadata?;
2) How much screen time is healthy, for both children (and adults, for that matter)?;
3) Why are Silicon Valley parents raising their kids tech-free? Shouldn’t we ask why, in this intensely digital age?; and
4) Where have concentration, focus, and mindfulness gone? How many times have you had a conversation interrupted by someone looking down at their phone? Look, the majority of us are culpable in this last respect, but are we trying to change? Do we see the error of our ways?
If any of these topics are of interest to you, please consider browsing through the curated list of links and TEDx videos below.
The current political/media state has brought to the world’s attention how incredibly dependentand interdependent we–along with millions of people–are on other country’s products and services. An Apple iPhone does not just magically make its way into our hands: the physical hardware comes from somewhere, along with the intelligence, coding, encryption, and software inside the device. And what about the box it is shipped in? Or the paper label on the box? Where was that paper made? What forest did it come from? Which tree? How long ago did this process begin?
This is a digital collection of our Spanish art/science/history museum. The photos on the left-hand side are from real life and represent a cultural aspect of one of the 21 Spanish-speaking countries, while the right-hand side photos are what students did in class. Click on any of the images to enlarge them. Enjoy!
GUATEMALA: Thousands of Catholics in Antigua, Guatemala join together during Lent each year to make colored sawdust carpets in preparation for Semana Santa, or Holy Week. In 2014, they broke the Guinness Book of World Records and made the longest sawdust carpet ever, at an astounding 6,600 feet. Last year, the art teacher drew stencils in pencil on colored bulletin board paper, and then students filled in the designs with colored sand and glue. For more images of the real thing, see HERE. Student work from home (Continued Learning) is below.
PUERTO RICO: Students were so fascinated by the tiny size and loud voice of the Coquí frog (native to Puerto Rico), that they wanted to create a whole unit out of it. Diving into history, they learned that a long time ago, the Taíno people carved petroglyphs into rocks and caves, including a special symbol for the Coquí frog. To apply what they had learned, some students gathered natural materials outside and then drew the coquí symbol on the leaves and bark; others created a diorama with real dirt, sticks, and leaves (but fake frogs!); and others opted for the tree frog coloring page. Many were enchanted by The Legend of the Golden Coquí, and listened to the story repeatedly.
Still Life with Game, Vegetables and Fruit, by Juan Sánchez Cotán; The Persistence of Memory, by Salvador Dalí; La vista de Toledo, by El Greco; Las Meninas, by Diego Velázquez
SPAIN:El Prado in Madrid, Spain is one of the most famous museums in the world, housing over 27,000 objects and artworks. In fact, it was the Google Doodle just this week, which celebrated the museum’s 200th anniversary! For this exhibit, students took an 8.5×11 copy of Still Life with Game, Vegetables, and Fruit (the first Spanish still life, by Juan Sánchez Cotán) and transferred it by eye to a large trifold, trying to imagine how artists filled such massive canvases. Fourth graders did an amazing job here!
During the painting process, one student learned that the Prado was actually robbed in 2014— of a shocking 885 artworks. As a result, more than several classes were spent trying to merge their Spanish news show (including translated advertising slogans and commercial breaks) with an iMovie green screen breaking news “robbery” of their paintings in the style of Oceans 12. Ultimately, the project lost steam, but it was fun while it lasted! Here is the soundtrack we used.
CUBA/SPAIN: In 1715, a fleet of Spanish ships sank off the coast of Florida, en route to Spain and loaded with treasure from the new world. Modern treasure hunters have discovered some of this lost treasure–one family made $4.5 million dollars in 2017!–but much still remains on the ocean floor. Students acted out this story as a class, and then made artifacts for a faux museum display. After painting the Spanish crest and flag on them, students broke a few of the plates intentionally to make it seem more realistic! More info HERE.
PERU: Rainbow Mountain, or Vinicunca in Quechua, has a unique composition–14 different, colorful minerals–that makes the mountain range appear like the inside of a jawbreaker. For more information, visit this link and scroll to “Top Facts”. While the class used THIS amazing, paint-pouring video to make a model of the mountain–crazy fun but really messy!–one student painted the middle image on a canvas (above). Wow!
BOLIVIA: Yungas Road in Bolivia is one of the most dangerous roads in the world. It is only 12 feet wide, and the elevation varies from 4,000 to 15,000 feet high. Yikes! Third graders made a miniature diorama of this road, and presented their research at the weekly assembly. Would you dare to ride on it? For videos, see THIS LINK.
Quote: “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.” -Joan Miró
MEXICO: Alebrijes are mythical-type creatures and spirit animals. You may remember the alebrije Dante if you have seen the movie Coco. The origin of this art had an interesting beginning (read below). Fifth graders created their own alebrije out of papier-mâché.
“In 1936, when he was 30 years old, [Pedro] Linares fell ill with a high fever, which caused him to hallucinate. In his fever dreams, he was in a forest with rocks and clouds, many of which turned into wild, unnaturally colored creatures, frequently featuring wings, horns, tails, fierce teeth and bulging eyes. He heard a crowd of voices repeating the nonsense word “alebrije.” After he recovered, he began to re-create the creatures he’d seen, using papier-mâché and cardboard” (Source).
SPAIN: 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. 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. Here, a fifth grader researched bullfighting, and then built his own bullring- complete with real sand!
GUATEMALA: These are tiny Worry Dolls from Guatemala. Children make them and put them under their pillows at night to take away their worries (e.g., monsters, nightmares). Students were fascinated by these. They took a day to glue small pieces of fabric to balsa wood sticks, added a face, and soon afterwards, had their very own Worry Dolls. This Silly Billy video story is a great introduction.
SPAIN: The Camino de Santiago is a 500-mile hike across northern Spain. It takes about 30 days to complete on foot. You carry everything you need in a backpack, and follow the arrows and shells so you don’t get lost. Second graders made a very cool green screen video (click HERE) showing us their journey, while fifth graders opted to make a topographical representation of the walk.
CHILE: Easter Island is an island located in the South Pacific. There are hundreds of massive statues and wooden tablets scattered over this landmass, but no one knows how they got there–it is a mystery! The tablets have a mysterious language written on them (called Rongorongo) that no one can read. Third graders carved 3-D models of the statues and wooden tablets with clay and toothpicks.
ARGENTINA: This terrifyingly high “Tren a las nubes” (Train to the Clouds) in Argentina is, well, terrifyingly high! Students are in the middle of creating a model of it out of Popsicle sticks.
SPAIN: Gazpacho is a delicious soup from Spain, and the perfect cold tomato dish to enjoy on a hot summer day. Third, fourth, and fifth graders took a day to celebrate La Tomatina, or tomato-throwing fight in Spain, by making Gazpacho in class. This is the recipe we used.
MEXICO: This pyramid is called “El Castillo” in Chichen Itza (2:19-2:36). It was built hundreds of years ago by the Maya civilization, but the amazing part here is that twice a year, exactly on the Spring and Fall equinoxes, a shadow appears that aligns perfectly with a serpent’s head. How did the Maya figure this out? For project ideas, one year Lower School students created almost 400 miniature cubes to literally build “El Castillo”. This year, third graders are using LED lights to create a shadow of the serpent’s tail inside a diorama.
SOUTH AMERICA: The Andean Condor is the largest flying bird in the world. It weighs up to 33 pounds and can have a wingspan of nearly 11 feet. Last year, students tried to make a life-size replica of this massive bird with paper feathers, but ultimately tired of cutting them out. So many feathers!! This year, a fifth grader cut one out of cardboard and painted it–much more efficient! Now there will be time to explore legends based on Andean mythology and Incan folklore…
PUERTO RICO: Bioluminescence is a natural phenomenon where “living organisms emit light”, oftentimes when disturbed. You have probably seen this on land–fireflies lighting up the night–but it can also occur in the water. Mosquito Bay in Vieques Puerto Rico is the brightest glowing bioluminescent bay in the world. If you scribble on your hands with yellow florescent markers and put them under a blacklight, it produces a similar effect. Note: This made my hands itchy, so be sure to wash up immediately afterwards.
SPAIN: Don Quijote de La Mancha is a world-renowned, 900-page novel from Spain, written by Miguel de Cervantes way back in the 1600’s. Centuries later, Picasso made a sketch of the two main characters to commemorate the novel’s 350th anniversary. First graders put a photocopy of this up to the window, placed pastel-colored paper on top of it, and then trace-scribbled the drawing with a Sharpie to create a two-tone replica. The class joke and icing on the cake was to cross out Picasso’s name and replace it with their own!
CHILE: Chile’s Marble Caves are a truly beautiful natural wonder. Students mixed teal and green paints to capture different shades, and later added true-to-life purples and yellows to their paintings to accent the vibrant backdrop. This VIDEO describes the caves as “like being inside the Aurora Borealis”. Wow!
PERU: The Nazca Lines are a group of ancient geoglyphs in Peru. They are made out of naturally occurring elements, like rocks, stones, or earth. These trenches–running in all different directions in this part of Peru–appear to be roads from ground level. However, from an airplane, you can see that they are actually huge designs depicting anything from hummingbirds and lizards to astronauts and spiral shapes. Drones are helping to uncover even more in recent years. HERE is one activity you can do in class or at home. Students also recreated these designs with masking tape on the floor. Click this LINK for more pics and videos.
PANAMA: The Kuna Indians of the San Blas Islands off of Panama are famous for a specific type of art, called mola. Mola means ‘blouse’ (or clothing) in the Kuna language. While women used to paint geometric designs on their bodies, nowadays the patterns come from nature—or, plants and animals—and are created with layers of fabric. Students opted to trace the mola patterns instead. This in itself took time, and gave them a glimpse into the detail-oriented, intricate work involved in the process. In a word, paciencia. HERE is a video to learn more.
ARGENTINA: Yerba Mate Tea is the ‘friendship drink’ of South America, especially Argentina Uruguay, Bolivia, and Paraguay. You drink the tea out of a gourd, and keep refilling it with hot water all day long to sip. The tea leaves are loose (not in a tea bag). It can be quite strong to some people. Fifth graders tasted it and heard the Guaraní legend of how Mate came to be.
BOLIVIA:Salar de Uyuni is the largest salt flat formation in the world. During the rainy season, a light coat of water creates a perfect reflection of the sky–from sunrises and sunsets to beautiful starry nights. Students used watercolors to paint a sunrise on half of a sheet of paper, and then folded it over while still wet to create fun mirror-images. Later, we all tasted a lot of salt and contrasted it with azúcar/sugar, and discussed how salt is a natural resource.
ECUADOR: There are sneezing iguanas that live here… and actually sneeze! HERE is a hilarious video to put on loop. We blend cultures by using the Colombian practice of saying, “Salud, dinero, amor” (health, money, love) every time someone sneezes in class, and then listen to a classic song about “Las tres cosas” by Cristina y los Stop, link HERE.
COLOMBIA: Is this the world’s most colorful town? Students painted colorful buildings and houses on tri-folds, and set up the cardboard in two lines so that they can ‘walk’ through town, stopping at various businesses and mercados along the way. The Señor Wooly song, “¿Adónde vas?” works well with this unit. In Guatapé, Colombia, there is also the famous Peñón de Guatapé–a 70-million-year-old rock that stands 656 feet high–which somehow begs for a project. *Photo credit to photographer Jessica Devnani
For more links, videos, photos, and research about each of these places, visit the “Projects” page.
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 M., 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. Or, read THIS ARTICLE for a few more ideas.
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.
*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 thendebate 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: 14.22 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.
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.