Welcome back to O’Hara Elementary and the 2014-2015 school year!
In this first Spanish newsletter of the year I want to spend most of my time discussing the nature of language learning. It’s amazing how much I learn along the way as a teacher of your children. This is my sixth year of teaching at O’Hara Elementary and I am still learning new ways to motivate the students as learners of a foreign language. My most recent realization concerns their awareness of their own language learning journey and the expectations they should hold for themselves at this point in time. With only 16-17 forty-minute lessons a year, the students receive 11 hours of instruction in the language per year. Over six years, that’s 66 hours. That may sound like a lot, but if we compare that to the recommendation of a research study, we are just whetting our language appetites here in elementary school because it takes over 500 hours of good practice to become conversationally competent in a language that is somewhat similar to a language you already know! (If this were Mandarin Chinese or Arabic class, it would take over 2,000 hours of good study for the majority of our students.) Clearly the students are a far ways off from that! Thus, my expectation for them is not that they speak entirely in Spanish, but rather, that they TRY to use the language they DO know to communicate, and that they always try their best!
Did you know that each day we use upwards of 20,000 different words in English? The students know a couple hundred Spanish words if they’ve been working hard to acquire the vocabulary discussed in class. At this point in the game, they are in an extended vocabulary acquisition stage in which they are growing their vocabulary banks to contain enough words to sustain conversation. So even if we are very limited in our conversational abilities now, we must remember that we are still preparing ourselves for future conversations by mastering as many vocabulary words as we can now.
One final point I made to Mrs. Planz’s 5th grade this afternoon was the idea that even I don’t know how to speak about all subjects in Spanish though I do consider myself a fluent speaker of the language. My ability to participate in certain conversational topics depends upon my experience with them. I provided the example of Algebra. I learned Algebra entirely in English, and have not had to discuss it EVER in Spanish. Thus, if I were to need to discuss this subject, even I would need to teach myself new vocabulary and expressions. I further explained that I could find situations even in English, my native language, in which I would struggle to have an intelligent and cohesive conversation. In this case I gave the example of having a conversation with a mechanic. Though I know the major parts of my car and know some tools, if I were to try to interpret my mechanic’s discourse about my engine, I would likely flounder. Worse yet, if I had to do the talking, I would probably have to resort to calling everything “that thingy” and “this thingy” to get my point across. At the end of the day, our ability to converse about anything depends upon our experience level with it.
Our learning requires patience and dedication, and that is the theme of this year. Over these six years I have seen the abilities of the students grow so much beyond where they used to be (yay rigorous instruction!). I am confident this year’s 5th grade class will be the best yet! They were the first kindergarteners I taught when I was hired here, so they hold a very special place in my heart. That means they are the first class to know nothing but my high expectations, and over all these years of pushing for the best from my students, they seem to now relish in the challenges I present them. Of course, the longer I am here, the better I get, so my expectations for all grade levels that come after them will just continue to rise.
With that said, we are starting the year for 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade with a review of greetings. For help with this topic, you can easily visit our Spanish website’s Saludos/Greetings page. Next, we will move into numbers, but first the 3rd graders will take a slight detour into a unit about emotions to expand upon ways to answer the question “¿Cómo estás?” (How are you?).
As has been the custom here for the last 3-4 years, Kindergarten, 1st grade, and 2nd grade will be reviewing Spanish in the classroom with their teacher this first semester and will resume Spanish classes in the 4th week of January.
If you have any questions, please shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
P.S. September 15-October 15 is Hispanic Heritage Month. Be on the lookout for a mid-month newsletter from me explaining this important month!
Srta. Jessica Taylor