As the United States becomes increasingly diverse, introducing children to a second language gives them access to both future opportunities and greater cultural fluency. According to Babbel, there are more than 400 million native speakers of Spanish in the world, making it the second most widely spoken language. This means that early learners stand to reap real benefits from learning Spanish in elementary school. Administrators and other instructional developers can lead the way in creating and introducing Spanish language programs into classrooms at the school and district level.
Benefits for Early Learners
The large number of native Spanish speakers isn’t the only reason for young children to learn the language. Continuous practice beginning at an early age means children will have a firm grasp of Spanish by the time they become adults. Elementary-age children are experiencing a critical time in development, when learning a language is easiest. “Elementary school-aged children process information in a variety of ways in order for it to make sense to them. They process information on levels that are different than adults and can be taught a variety of subjects,” Growing Up Bilingual says.
Children are able to retain what they learn more accurately and remember it throughout their lives. This is known as the Sponge Effect, which states that languages are more easily absorbed by children than adults. Because most schools do not begin teaching Spanish until high school, knowledge retention isn’t as solid and students struggle more to memorize and retain a new language. However, if administrators and instructional leaders understand the value of introducing Spanish earlier in a child’s school years, they can create programs and initiatives that give students the opportunity to learn at this crucial time.
In addition to retention, understanding other cultures and studying other languages helps students build stronger social skills. According to The New York Times, recent studies in developmental psychology have found that multilingual children “can be better at communication than monolingual children.” Being exposed to another language gives learners a social advantage and “facilitates the basic skills of interpersonal understanding,” the same article explains.
Elementary Spanish Curriculum Ideas: Greetings, Songs and More
There are many common frameworks that are successful in delivering Spanish language content to elementary-aged students. For example, incorporating interviews and conversations helps students become familiar with the language at its most basic level. Teachers can create opportunities for students to exchange basic greetings and pleasantries, such as:
- Hello (hola)
- Goodbye (adios)
- How are you? (Cómo estás?)
- Nice to meet you! (Encantado de conocerte!)
Conversations are an ideal starting point for students to learn how to apply the new language they are learning. This approach gets students to interact with one another while memorizing some of the most common Spanish phrases, according to Bright Hub Education. This is also an opportunity for students to learn colors, descriptors and vocabulary.
Another strategy to incorporate Spanish into the curriculum is introducing Spanish-language songs. Teaching students through music can make learning new words and phrases more memorable. Songs can also increase student engagement and keep them interested in learning. By repeating the song lyrics, young students retain what they know. According to Spanish education resource FluentU, “The key to using songs effectively is to create meaningful activities to go along with them. Asking students to simply translate a song isn’t going to be a motivating activity.” The following is a video that illustrates how to teach colors through song.
Classroom activities like these can be reinforced by school administrators and district-based instructional leaders. For example, these education professionals can develop school-wide programs that feature the Spanish language, as well as creating outcomes-based elementary Spanish curriculum.
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How Instructional Leaders Can Help
When it comes to Spanish education for early learners, administrators and other instructional leaders play an important role. They can help develop elementary Spanish curriculum that molds students into well-rounded, productive learners in today’s global society. West Virginia State University offers a fully online Master of Education in Instructional Leadership (MEIL) degree that prepares classroom teachers to develop specialized skills and advance to administrative and leadership roles. With a curriculum focused on relevant techniques and emerging concepts, this program is designed to help educators create pathways to success for both students and staff.
Through study of evidence-based practice and current trends, WVSU master’s students identify, develop and integrate educational programs at the school and/or district level to increase student achievement. WVSU aims to increase instructional leadership skills in communications, evaluation and networking to be responsive to the needs of a variety of public school audiences at the school and district level; this will allow our students to identify and explore diverse student populations and their unique needs, as well as methods to ensure development of their personal goals and academic success — exactly what a new and innovative foreign language program could provide to learners.
WVSU is providing students with the opportunity to participate in a research-based program in instructional leadership that will help graduate students develop the critical thinking and problem solving skills to improve teaching and learning in school and district settings. This is an instructional leadership program with an emphasis on social justice, fairness and equity.