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Heritage youngsters learn to speak Spanish

Heritage Elementary School students with teacher Joelle Jones learn to say the colors in Spanish. CONTRIBUTED
Heritage Elementary School students with teacher Joelle Jones learn to say the colors in Spanish. CONTRIBUTED
MADISON – Approximately 800 youngsters in Madison’s elementary schools are learning much more about Spanish than “Gracias” and “Muy bien.”
“Elementary students in grades K-2 in all of Madison City Schools have the wonderful opportunity to take Spanish one time per week,” Heritage Elementary School Principal Dr. Georgina Nelson said. “The elementary schools share three system-level teachers. Each student receives 30 minutes of Spanish instruction each week.”
“Our Spanish teacher, Mrs. Joelle Jones, does a fabulous job of making learning the language and culture fun for our students,” Nelson said. “She sings, dances and designs hands-on activities for the kids that makes learning an adventure.”
“Studies have shown the younger the learner the more receptive our brains are to language acquisition,” Jones said. “Also, young language-learners are not as self-conscious. They’re more willing to take risks and make mistakes.”
Instead of using textbooks, the Madison teachers develop their own curriculum and purchase materials from Teachers Pay Teachers. To gather ideas from other teachers, they use Facebook, Pinterest and Youtube. American Council on Teaching Foreign Languages and Teachers of Effective Language Learners have been two helpful resources.
Spanish classes sing and “use lots of motions, actions and pictures to help them learn the vocabulary,” Jones said.
“Language educators are moving away from textbook grammar-driven instruction to a proficiency-based language instruction,” Jones said. Madison’s Spanish teachers strive to speak the target language 90 percent of the time.
“In contrast, years ago students were given verbs to conjugate along with vocabulary and were expected to produce error-free language. Language was about what somebody could memorize,” Jones said.
Their curriculum focuses on “‘chunks’ of words or phrases. We teach third-person singular form for most verbs, the familiar command form for most verbs,” Jones said.
After one semester, students can greet others appropriately, answer questions about how they feel and yes/no questions. Sample questions are “Is the horse brown?,” “Is the horse brown or black?” and “Who has the horse?”
The program’s three major challenges are a meaningful curriculum, teacher collaboration and funding cuts, Jones said.
Nelson’s children are Heritage kindergartners and participated in Spanish classes. “They have learned a tremendous amount of Spanish, such as colors, numbers, phrases and about the culture,” Nelson said.
“However, one unanticipated benefit that I see as a parent is the empathy and respect they have learned for those who are not native English speakers. They have learned first-hand how fun, yet challenging, learning another language can be,” Nelson said.
“Who doesn’t love to see videos of their children with huge smiles on their faces singing in Spanish with their teacher?” Nelson said.

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