Developing an ear and tongue for language is a life-long process that shapes the way we think.
Languages are like a beautiful rainbow. Each color has its own personality and reflects its culture. Think of not only looking at the rainbow, but listening to it.
• German-regimented language, orderly minds
• Portuguese-mellow sounds, mellow attitudes
• French- flowery language, romantic culture
• Spanish-fiery voices, passionate living
• Italian-Ahh, Italian, a combination of all things good
I think English as a Second Language children are amazing the way they are able to translate for their parents and transfer many of their primary language skills to their English learning. They hold two cultures in the palms of their hands and are open and receptive to both.
Music is a happy way of learning a new language. I think of my daughter in the back seat singing along to "Un Deux Trois First French Rhymes" peche, pomme, poire, abricot, y'en a une, y'en a une. My students at school love this German counting song, and when our Spanish teacher Ms. Vega comes in they anticipate the alphabet song. Rhythm naturally opens the mind to memory and makes learning fun.
Photo: I imagine learning a language to be like a Miro painting, bits of information all scattered but somehow it all comes together to fit the big picture.
For the past few years I've been lucky enough to have volunteers who are German and Japanese speakers come and teach a weekly lesson to my second graders. It is amazing to me to see the childrens' energy and willingness to try something different. This breaks down the weirdness factor and teaches children that learning about a new culture and language is fun. We hear Spanish quite frequently in Texas but, German and Japanese are new to many children. When my foreign language teachers come in, I become a student with my children. In both classes we are learning not just vocabulary words, but lexical chunking; putting a sentence together. Even in the first few weeks of school they are already able to form a sentence.
The school where I teach has implemented a Spanish program this year. The goal of the program (created by director, Norma Riley) is to create a generation of students with bilingual communication skills. The Spanish teachers use DVDs and CDs to play songs, games, music, reading, writing, acting, and conversations. Most importantly, they make learning Spanish fun! They also give us an inside to their culture. Our teacher, Ms. Vega is from Chili and we had a discussion on how the Texas flag is similar to Chili's flag.
It's more fun and meaningful for students to learn everyday ways to communicate rather than being limited to vocabulary words. Teaching in chunks seems to move the students closer to fluency.
Children are open to any and all languages when they're young. Sign language is a favorite I think because it is kinesthetic and the kids get to move and express with their hands. It's becoming more prevalent to introduce foreign language at an early age; this is the key to having native English speakers and ESL students on the same team. Many countries start learning foreign languages in elementary school. Countries in Europe already know that learning languages increases a child's memory, focus, math skills, and social skills. That's why when we visit Europe most natives are happy to speak English.
I think for an adult, it's easier to give up and lose patience because we have so many other things on our plates. Unlike children who are learning languages in schools, it is their job and a requirement and something they can't give up. Just like with most other things, a good attitude is necessary. Children are naturally enthusiastic and feel brave about attempting languages, unlike adults who are quick to get shy and embarrassed when frustrated. These mistakes make us humble and appreciate our ESL citizens even more.
Learning a language can be difficult, but it is greatly rewarding. I envy my students' and long for those times in school when you learn and get lost in the process. I like to watch my students enjoy their D.E.A.R. time (drop everything and read). For a short moment most can be carried away effortlessly without a care in the world and get lost in a book. It seems like such a luxury.
I once audited a French class in college for fun! I miss school! I loved picking out my classes and being excited to learn. I miss my favorite corner in the Alabama library surrounding myself with books to write a paper. You can teach a student a lesson for a day; but if you can teach him to learn by creating curiosity, he will continue the learning process as long as he lives. ~Clay P. Bedford
I have heard, learning multiple languages delays alzheimer's by four years. As a dancer I think I get an extra four years because like Martha Graham said, Dance is the hidden language of the soul of the body.
We adapt to the times and do everything so fast. I have piles of books on my night table collecting dust and my new favorite way to read and learn foreign language is with a book on CD for the car trip to work. I also get a German word of the day from Transparent Language. It's free and has sound so you can hear the word used in a sentence. I keep saying I'm going to purchase the Rosetta Stone but I must be able to commit to not only the expensive price but also the time. However you learn, make it work for you; as long as you stay inspired and have the will to learn, you will! If you have the light and the fire it is likely your children will be blessed with it too.
Photos: Mrs. Cooley's class learning Spanish with Ms. Vega and German with Frau Fillhart.