What’s Your End Goal?

We left our Spanish immersion school last spring. And we soon entered a world of online school that we have since combined with homeschool group activities and Spanish tutoring. And while we love most of this new routine and what it has offered our family, there is no formal Spanish component.

Tutoring is expensive. But continuing this journey of learning a second language (after four years!) is a must. And because our son is not using his second language on a daily basis (the absolute lack of any quality online instruction is a topic for another post!), I am watching his skills slip away. I am plagued with feelings of desperation and helplessness with the absolute lack of options out there. And while I can have our son read books and watch movies in Spanish, I can’t grade papers, help with grammar, or speak with him in Spanish. And at $45 per hour, the tutoring is limited to an hour a week. And we can’t do everything in an hour, so I was presented with two options when asked recently by his tutor, “What’s your end goal?”:

  1. Focus on conversation, conversation, and more conversation, or
  2. Focus on grammar, reading, and writing (like a language arts course).

So – What is our end goal?

Do I want him to be a proficient conversationalist in Spanish? Yes! Do I want him to use correct grammar, write well, and be ready for a (someday) Spanish literature or AP Spanish class? Yes!

And this got me thinking about an even more important question: What is my end goal as a parent?

I think as parents we can fret over too many little details: What sports do we let them play? Should we put limits on extracurriculars? Do we let them try every activity they want to at the expense of family time, vacations, and household harmony? What about cub scouts, 4-H, swimming, chess club, football, track, cross country, martial arts, music lessons, band, or <gasp> free time… All these have amazing benefits for kids. And what about all those optional academic classes – Kumon, Saturday Academy.

As parents, what is our end goal?

With our changes in academic environment last spring came some serious soul searching. But what was important to our family was never more clear:

We want a happy, caring, responsible, hard working, empathetic young man with an eye and heart for others around the world.

And with all the stress and fretting we do over our kids and how they spend their time, I wonder how much of it really matters? In our collective goals of raising young men and women who are ready to tackle the world with their optimism, passion, and endless young energy, are we missing the beauty of their childhood (the forest) through our own internal struggles (the trees)?

Of course, as parents want our children to be the best, the fastest, the smartest, the strongest, the most popular,  but let’s also not lose sight of this: They are in the middle of the only childhood they will ever have. Let’s make sure they get to enjoy it.

And as for me, I am still figuring out what our second language goals are in the immediate term. But our long term goals have not changed. And as long as we don’t lose sight of those, I think we’ll be in good shape.

The chatter about dialects!

I recently read this article from the Washington Post, and it got me thinking (again) about dialects. Over these past few years, I have been forced to engage is less than entertaining dialogue with other parents about the “right” Spanish. Or, more accurately, that some people speak it “wrong” or “lazy” because the only “real Spanish” is Castilian.

Let’s step back a bit and have a history and geography refresher about the settlement of the Americas.

Christopher Columbus, an Italian but sailing under contract with the Spanish government, purportedly ‘discovered’ America with his ships loaded with Spaniards. Who were these Spaniards? Many if not all were from Andalusia (southern Spain). They worked the ports and were experienced seamen. Most had nothing to lose and a lot of maravadis (their currency at the time) to gain, so they joined Columbus and his crew on their adventures to find a new route to the West Indies.

Why does this matter?

Because Andalusian Spanish is different than Castilian Spanish. Southern Spain pronunciation of words omits the ending “r,” “d,” and “s” sounds, and may even drop the final consonant altogether. Of course, this Spanish is most similar to Caribbean Spanish, because it reflects the language of the original explorers from Europe who elected not to return. Go figure! And let’s not even go into the social and class stereotypes – port workers were lower class and generally less educated than those in Madrid with all the money making decisions. That’s another post entirely.

Are we to tell our fellow Americans in Boston that they are lazy because they drop the “r” sound and pronounce “car” as “cah”? What about our friends who drop “ing” (goin’ fishin’)? A small flowing stream of water is a “creek” in some areas, and pronounced “crick” in others, depending on where you live. Is one more correct than the other?

Fact is, even with different pronunciations, our English variations still have the same spelling and the same written language rules. So yes, dear friends, our Bostonian friends still spell car as c-a-r, not c-a-h! In Montana, you pronounce creek as crick, but you spell it c-r-e-e-k. And yes, children learn that the “ee” is pronounced with a long e sound, not a short i sound. Yet, somehow they know that the stream from which their horses and cattle drink is pronounced “crick” and spelled c-r-e-e-k. Some of our Spanish speaking friends may drop the final “s” sound from “inglés” but it does not make them lazy. Children learn to spell it the same way.

In the end, the story of how words are pronounced across the globe has a full and complicated tale. Our ears can tell us a lot about other people and where they are from. Our spoken language is a tribute to our own personal history. It’s a wonderful blend of culture, geography, and history. Embrace it, dear friends, don’t judge it.

What this mama is learning

I’m having loads of fun watching this second language develop with our son. And I’ll admit, I’m having just as much fun watching his friends and classmates do their thing too. Things are different this year – homework has been met without argument but other things have become more of a chore. Lessons for mom, I guess. These kids keep us on our toes. Here are random thoughts from me, in no particular order:

  • Listening to my son and his friends sing songs in Spanish brings me to tears. Feliz Navidad is a guarantee. I’m a little surprised at myself over this.
  • Listening to my son and his friends speak Spanish to their teacher makes me smile big. Think Cheshire Cat smiles here, folks.
  • Reading in Spanish at home is met with resistance.
  • Watching ANYTHING on TV in Spanish is met with even more resistance.
  • Listening to Spanish music is always met with a smile. I’ll take it.
  • I figure, reading Spanish at home will come with time. Maybe it’s like eating vegetables, one of these days he’s going to love it.
  • I need to find Spanish poetry books for kids.
  • If I ask him about a book he just read in Spanish, the answer is often, “I don’t know” if I ask, “what was this page about?” If I ask him to give me a summary of the entire story, he will happily oblige. He starts off in English but oddly enough, he switches to Spanish after a sentence or two. Maybe this isn’t odd. I smile and nod, because I would never let on that I don’t really know what he just said. If I give him a list of questions in Spanish about his Spanish story, he’ll answer them. If I give him a list of questions in English about his Spanish story, he gets frustrated. Why would I do this? I’m not trying to be mean, but I am intrigued. ;)
  • Immediately after school, I’m greeted by “hola” and all kinds of Spanish goodness. Of course, it ends when I speak to him, because I’m asking him something in English. It’s like there is a Spanish/English switch. Now I’m willing to bet that if I actually spoke Spanish, he’d keep with his Spanish conversation.
  • Someone asked him the other day, “Tell me something in Spanish!”  I thought to myself, there is no way he will be up for this sort of party trick. But, sure enough, he rattled off a few sentences about going to a different classroom for math, but learning Spanish, science, and social studies with his Maestra Rosa.
  • Small praises and acknowledgements of his efforts in trying to speak more Spanish in the classroom go a long way.
  • Oral presentations in elementary school? Yes. Oral presentations in Spanish? Yes. I wish I started doing public speaking at the age of 7!

Frankly, I’m a happy camper. It is so rewarding to witness his growth and budding confidence. The appreciation I have for those who teach him every day is grand. He loves them too. What a gift. Blessed we are.

Merry Christmas!