Our last post in our Raising Your Children Bilingual series comes from the perspective of a Spanish teacher. Paz Mosqueira Corvalán is a Spanish Teacher at Su Escuela Language Academy in Hingham, MA. While teaching in Chile, she was given the opportunity to teach at a full immersion school in Boston and went for it. Having first hand experience teaching children of all ages a second language, we asked Paz to share her experience, best practices, and tips for families interested in starting the journey. Want to know more? See our other posts in our Raising Your Child Bilingual series here, here and here. Photo by Katie Jameson
How long have you been teaching? What led you to teach bilingual classes?
I’ve been a Spanish teacher in the U.S. for nearly 5 years. I specialized in Languages and Pre-school education in Chile. The opportunity to teach at a full immersion school in Boston presented itself and I thought it would be so interesting to experience first hand all I had read and learned – the scientific studies on the benefits of dominating a second language at such a young age. It’s not just that they could communicate in a second language, have access to even more sources of information and culture, but it’s also proven that it has so many neurological benefits and allows for information to be more easily retained.
Are all of your students already bilingual or are you teaching some students a second language? If they are already bilingual, how do you split the day in two languages?
When I started teaching in the U.S. it was with preschool students. Most of my students had their first encounter with a second language in my class, which is why the whole time they were at school we’d speak in Spanish. The beginning is always more difficult since because they understand so little, but the use of images to give instructions and repetition of the same vocabulary are key in the first stages of teaching and learning.
I’m currently teaching students in fourth and fifth grade. Many of them have been at our school since they were three years old, some since 5 years old. There are also students who are new to the school this year. My current students are all able to speak, read, and write in Spanish just like they do so in English. Most of their curriculum is in Spanish (math, science, art, p.e., and music), they only have one class in English, which is 1.5 hours long, since they need to develop the competencies required in their native tongue expected for their age.
I’d like to point out how the time that children are exposed to a second language affects them. For example, the students that enrolled in the program at 3 and 5 years old are 100% bilingual and they have an ample vocabulary. Students who enrolled at 5 or older have additional tutoring and special projects to supplement the years they missed compared to the other students in order for them to be at the same proficiency level. These have had excellent results by the end of the first year of the program.
Is the goal for your students to phase out one language eventually or continue in a dual-language classroom throughout school-age years?
Based on my experience, infants and toddlers (ages 0-4) do best if enrolled in a full-immersion program if their native or different language is spoken at home. Older students (ages 5+) is good to maintain both languages since they must develop basic abilities (reading and writing) in their native language as well.
If you wish your child to read and write in the second lanague, I’d also recommend a full-immersion program. It’s also important that they are involved in other programs in the second language, such as after school activities or extra curricular activities. In order for a child to be totally bilingual they must be surrounded by it and speaking it as often as posible.
Do you require parents to learn any of the second language being taught? Are they responsible for practicing the language at home with the child?
This is a very personal decision. It’s obviously very helpful and stimulating for the children if the parents are also learning this second language-they can practice with each other. We (the teachers) can often offer activities that are fun and educational to incorporate at home.
What tips would you give to parents who are trying to make their home more Spanish friendly (or any second language)?
Let me start by saying that this should be a fun process that keeps the children’s interest. It can be a fun game of mimicking. For example, you can ask your child to represent an animal, actions, etc. and you have to guess saying the word in Spanish and vice versa. At meal time, you can go over the names of the different foods at the table, when getting dressed you can do it with the different articles of clothing, body parts, etc.
Another element can be incorporating reading in a second language. You can do this every night or you can have specific nights when you only read in Spanish. I would recommend that this is done in a gradual manner – start with the ones that only name objects, then the ones that form sentences, and so on.
Finding the most mundane moments of your daily routine to incorporate the second language is very useful and the easiest way to start practicing and learning together. The most important thing to remember is that if you decide to do this at home you have to stick to it. Sticking to a routine, sticking to a plan, and actually doing it permanently will yield the best results. If you do it for two weeks and then forget about it for two and then pick it back up will only make the process slow and unsuccessful.
Another thing to keep in mind is to be clear in the way you deliver commands to your child in the second language, especially in the beginning. Commands, questions, and answers should be clear and the same – for example: if you use ‘time to read’ keep that same form until your child understand what it means, and then you can change it to something more natural like ‘it’s story time’, and you start to integrate new vocabulary and changing completely the way you deliver the command.
What are some favorite resources for parents to use?
There is a wide variety of materials which help learn another language. My favorite are children’s books and music. Books have such diversity in topics and supported with images which help children learn more quickly. It’s also easy for parents who don’t already speak the language to learn along with their kids.
Music, in my personal experience, has been very useful in teaching my students. It’s a very fun way for children to learn new words and phrases. I would recommend parents introduce this as part of their daily routine. A lot of children’s music in Spanish offer stories and images that go along with the song, in addition to the fact that they help teach so many important things such as animals, colors, family, etc.
For older kiddos I would recommend apps. There are so many! You as parents know your children, I would recommend you find resources to teach them a second language considering their taste and interest. This makes a huge difference in how much effort and time they put into it.