Teaching Spanish is much more than language instruction. It really boils down to facilitating authentic connections with Spanish-speaking cultures. I love to begin my Spanish classes with a song, rhyme, chant, or catchy poem. This helps students transition in a fun way from their English-speaking world to the Spanish-speaking environment inside our classroom. We start slowly by vocalizing each syllable with a corresponding movement such as clapping or stomping, and then we act out the meaning of the phrases as we say or sing them. Elementary age students are uniquely equipped to learn a new language because they naturally hear all phonemes found in the world’s languages making it easier for them to reproduce the sounds compared with adults.
Aside from play and music, another way of connecting students to the language is by introducing them to the traditions and actions of Spanish-speaking children their own age. Most recently, students learned about the holiday of the three kings celebrated on January 5th and 6th throughout Spanish-speaking cultures. Acting out and telling stories about el día de reyes and sampling traditional food eaten during this holiday brings the language to life in a meaningful way for children. With the hope of receiving presents from the three kings, Venezuelan children leave their shoes outside their bedroom door, while children in Puerto Rico leave a container of water and a box of hay for the kings’ camels to eat. In Spain children write letters to the three kings asking for gifts, and they celebrate with parades and processions. Mexicans eat rosca de reyes, a circular shaped bread decorated with candied fruits to symbolize the kings’ crowns, and if you find a baby figurine in your serving you are guaranteed good luck for the next year! While enjoying food and practicing Spanish, students increase their global awareness and learn how they are different from children in these countries, but more often, they end up discovering and celebrating their many similarities.
My wish for my Spanish students is that one day they will be able to speak to the heart of a native speaker in one of the 21 Spanish speaking countries or to one of the 28% of Californians who speak Spanish at home! As Nelson Mandela said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”