I have always wanted my children to speak Spanish. I love the language and I have tried to teach it to them but they did not show much interest. I have to admit that after teaching them the colors and a couple of more words, I felt stuck. Then their elementary school began to offer some Spanish classes through Lango for their winter session after-school program. I had never heard of Lango before but I signed them up anyway. Am I glad I did! After the first two months, my children are able to converse with me in Spanish using short sentences and most of all, they LOVE Spanish and the learning is effortless. I am so happy with the program that I have signed them up for a second session. I met with Brigette Iarrusso, the Director of Curriculum at Lango to let you know more about this fantastic program and how children become bilingual.
Lydie: Brigette, can you tell us a little bit about Lango?
Brigette: Lango is part of a family of companies at Intrax Cultural Exchange. We come from a long history of Foreign Exchange programs, high school exchange, professional exchange, and au pair programs. The goal at Intrax is to connect people from different cultures. The directors of Lango basically came to the determination that we are not working with students early enough in the United States to really equip them to understand and communicate in a new language. And so Lango focuses on children between the ages of 18 months and 8 years old, which is really the best window of opportunity for children to learn a language in a very natural way, the same way they learn their first language. They are not memorizing, they are not asked to translate from English to Spanish, they are simply exposed to native speaking French, Mandarin, or Spanish speakers in a full emergent class that are play based and involve dancing, singing, music, activities, games and art. They are in an environment where their brains are encouraged to adapt and understand a new language. We find that at that age their learning curve is so short and so amazing: children as young as 2 years old are able to hear mandarin words and pronounce them with no funny American accent which is very different from someone my age who is trying to learn a new language with totally different sounds. My brain actually learns languages differently than a child does. We really try to take advantage of the kids' natural ability to absorb new sounds, new words, and children's natural enthusiasm for trying new things.
Lydie: What languages do you teach?
Brigette: We currently offer Spanish, Mandarin, and French. We started out with Spanish which is by far the most popular language we offer. We are finding that in the Bay Area there is also a huge interest in our Mandarin classes.
Lydie: I speak Spanish fluently and I could never get my children to learn Spanish with me. They were interested but they did not seem to like the way I was teaching them. So I enrolled them in Lango and now both of them are learning Spanish, they are very happy and they are speaking more and more. What is the trick? What did you do that I did not do?
Brigette: What you are describing is actually more common that you would think. We have lots of students in our class that are children of Hispanic people who speak Spanish fluently, or from mandarin speaking native parents who speak Mandarin at home. We have come to realize that children are often not comfortable with their parents in the role of teachers. And there is a little bit of a barrier in wanting to perceive their parents in a teaching role. In our classes, because they are so play based, our teachers are very rarely perceived as teachers. Although they are highly trained educators, they are perceived by the kids as incredibly fun facilitators of a playgroup. Our kids are very interactive and they feel a lot of support from their peers for speaking the language. Our method really emphasizes high energy and lots of encouragement so the kids get really warmed up and really excited. And it becomes like a team sport with the goal being learning a new language!
Lydie: If a kid is in a class and he wants to communicate with the teacher, how does he do it? What language does he choose? If he is speaking in English, what is the teacher going to tell him?
Brigette: What we do is that early on, we do not pressure children to communicate in the target language. So for example, if they are confused and they ask a question in English or say something in English, the teacher will just reinforce the correct response to question back to him in Spanish (or French or Mandarin) continuously using pictures, body movement, drawings, gestures, whatever it takes for the child to understand without relying on the English language.
Lydie: What is a typical schedule for the lesson?
Are there things that you do all the time during the class?
Brigette: All our classes follow a similar routine. As I am sure you know, children function really well in a familiar environment and when they know what to expect. And when they feel very safe and very secure. So what we do is that we create a class format that starts with a welcome circle, good morning songs, kids welcome each other chanting their names, talking about their feelings, reading a story, engaging in an activity, doing an art project and then we do another circle at the end of the class when children celebrate, sing songs and say goodbye. What that does is that helps them understand more and more quickly because there is a routine and there is repetition. It helps them really grow quickly when they understand the foundation of the class and they understand the basics, then they can start jumping to the next level. And it also helps us make a class that makes sense and is coherent because it has a logical flow and is based around a story and a set of activities. It is not random. At winter time, we have a winter story book and all of our activities, games and art projects are centered around the theme of the book. And the same is true for the spring, the summer and the fall.
Click here to watch for yourself some extracts of a Spanish class and read the end of the interview with Brigette.
I am a Travel Whisperer and mother of two little avid travelers. I am sharing my tips and tricks on visiting the San Francisco Bay Area with children. I also love to share my French culture and tips on vacationing in France with little ones. Subscribe to my blog www.travelismorefunwithkids.com or follow me on twitter @lydiethomas.