“I am writing to get advice. We are a English speaking family. I do not speak Spanish. My child, Ronnie started at a bilingual school last year in the 1st grade. The school teaches a dual language model immersion program for Spanish. My son has expressed to me he does not like Spanish but likes the school otherwise. I have hired tutors to help Ronnie but it still has not built his confidence in Spanish. I want him to to feel positive about his education. I have considered transferring him to a traditional school without the Spanish. Do you have any suggestions to make Spanish a more positive experience for my child? What criteria should be used to determine if Spanish learning is a good fit for a child? I am really concerned about this matter.. Any information or insights would be a great help.


Monica Lewis”

Dear Monica,

When learning a second language it takes approximately five to seven years to develop academic proficiency in the language. Native English-speaking students who enter into a Dual Immersion program in the first grade often enter into the program a full year after other English-speaking students enter the program. Due to your son’s later entry, it’s important that the teacher is not instructing and/or grading him in the same way or having the same expectations for Spanish language development that might be expected of a student who entered the program at the beginning of kindergarten.

It’s important to determine if your son does not enjoy learning Spanish because he really is not interested in learning another language, or whether his lack of interest in learning Spanish is due to lack of confidence or feeling either frustrated or unsuccessful. It may be entirely possible that he is not interested in learning Spanish because he is not provided with instruction appropriate to his beginning level of Spanish and as a result he is frustrated or anxious. Or perhaps he is experiencing a sort of culture shock that some language learners initially experience as they are immersed into another language, a stage that students will often move out if given sufficient time, patience and support.

I would recommend visiting his classroom during the Spanish instructional block and looking for the following:

• Considering that you do not speak Spanish, does the teacher utilize a variety of strategies that assist you in understanding what is being taught? Or are you completely unable to understand what is happening in the classroom? If the teacher is not utilizing a variety of strategies that help you understand what is being taught, it may be possible that instruction is not being modified for your son’s Spanish proficiency level.
• Does the room seem inviting to children who are learning Spanish? Can you feel a culture or climate in the room that motivates language learners to take risks with practicing language?
• Speak with your son’s new teacher and remind him/her that your son entered the program in first grade. Ask the teacher what steps that the teacher will take during instruction as well as modifying student assignments in order to meet the needs of your son and develop his Spanish.

It is natural if he is not meeting grade level standards at this point in Spanish because it takes approximately five to seven years to achieve proficiency in a second language. After a full year in the program, students at the beginning stages should be able to recognize and identify letter names and sounds, begin to decode syllables and put two basic syllables into words (ma-má=mamá), and read simple stories or repetitive text after having been exposed to key vocabulary and language patterns in the text. By the end of first grade, he should have begun speaking with simple words and then later progressed to speaking with two words, simple phrases, and simple sentence structures with the support of his teacher. It is also expected that he can copy basic text written collaboratively with the teacher and can write basic, repetitive type sentences after being provided an example by the teacher.

If your son has mastered the expectations noted in the previous paragraph, he is making acceptable progress towards acquiring Spanish. If he continues to struggle with many of the beginning level skills in Spanish, it is recommended that you convene a meeting with the teacher and any other personnel in order to create an action plan for facilitating his Spanish development and motivation. Learning a second language is sometimes a frustrating process, and both teachers and parents must work together to brainstorm strategies and ideas that will assist student learning as well as increase motivation.

Meanwhile try to buy books, music, fun games, and other resources in Spanish for your son that will make learning Spanish fun for him. It may be possible that as a result of sending him to tutoring that he now perceives that Spanish is a chore or something that he is being forced to do. It’s important that you find out what is fun and interesting to him, and try to find a way to expose him to it in Spanish.

Take a moment to look over some of the strategies and tips for bringing out the fun in language learning that I have suggested for other parents who have been in your situation. Please hang in there and with appropriate support and resources this is a stage that your son will more than likely move out of. Good luck, and most importantly…continue to also read and engage in literacy experiences in English at home because the stronger he is in English, the more easily he will acquire Spanish!

Melanie McGrath.-- is a coordinator of Dual Immersion and transitional bilingual education programs in Southern California. She provides professional development training and assistance to parents, bilingual teachers and administrators in the areas of biliteracy development, bilingual program design and English language development. Melanie can also be found blogging on Multilingual Mania. Click here to read her answers.

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