Confidence

It’s been hard to pinpoint, but something has changed with our little man recently. I know part of it is maturity and experience in a school environment.  Then it occurred to me what I’ve seen lately – confidence.

The school year is almost over, and finally he’s comfortable enough to share a little of this language outside the classroom.

His reading is outstanding. He is reading Spanish at a first grade level, which to me is amazing given back in September he didn’t know the Spanish alphabet. More reading practice will build vocabulary and we see him taking off. He’s a good reader in English already, so these two go hand in hand. We are thrilled.

He proclaimed (very matter of fact) in the car the other day that he’s “bilingual” and he is working on “mastering Spanish.” Someday he’ll be an expert, he says.

I heard from one of his teachers that something was bothering him last week. He was upset and another student was sitting with him, consoling. These kids can be so loving to each other, it makes your heart ache. In this instance, their conversation was in Spanish. I wish I were a fly on the wall for that.

We had a substitute teacher about 2 weeks ago. She doesn’t speak English to the kids (though she speaks it perfectly), so they don’t relate to her in that language. She made a point to tell me that he made a big effort to communicate with her in Spanish that day.

Yesterday we were talking while out for a walk. I explained that summer camp and next school year, there will be students that don’t know any Spanish, just like him when he started first grade. We talked that it was an important job for him to help them learn, just like other students did for him.  And then we played a game called “¿cómo se dice ___ en Espanol?” (How do you say ___ in Spanish?) I asked him all kinds of basic situations, and he happily answered them for me. He was the teacher, I was the student. Fun!

The first few months of the school year, he flatly refused to tell me any words in Spanish. He refused to play Spanish games on the computer or iPad. I had to sneak in Spanish music in the car. But then I started catching him doing things like counting backwards while jumping, singing songs in Spanish while playing by himself, counting to 100. By Christmas, he would reluctantly read a book outloud to me.

Now he’ll gladly read a book aloud or to himself in Spanish. But the biggest change is definitely the speaking part. He’ll voluntarily tell us things in Spanish that he learned that day. He ASKS for Spanish music, he has favorite songs (de colores, de bonita bandera), and will sing them with our without the music playing. He will rattle off phrases in Spanish and not realize he’s doing it. I think that’s my favorite part. He’s switching and not realizing it. And we love that, and his new found, budding confidence. I know he’s thinking ahead about being a second grader, and we’re certainly excited for what that will bring for him.

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Soy feliz

We get a lot of questions about when our son will be speaking Spanish. I think some expect “fluency” in a year or so, and that is just far from reality.  It’s a multi-year process, just as it is for our first language learning. There are a few resources out there that I have found quite helpful regarding second language acquisition, including HERE and HERE.

I will say that one of my favorite documents is one put together by the State of Oregon. They correlate cumulative hours of instruction with acquisition benchmarks. For those curious, here it is:  Oregon Revised Second Language Standards

So we have just a month left of school. I’m thinking a lot these days about our experience in language immersion. I think for the most part it was easier on us that I expected. We came in expecting a lot more stress and anxiety for our son than there was. In fact, the biggest challenge was the longer day and the exhaustion he experienced after a day spent in another language. This was mostly combated with a big, protein rich breakfast, and an earlier bedtime.

With all the reading I have done, I was also expecting a setback or at least a stall in his English language reading and writing skills. I can say we are thrilled that this is absolutely not the case. His spelling has improved greatly.  Reading skills on one language sure supplement the other. I do think that his confidence stemming from his ability to read in English makes him believe he can read anything he wants in Spanish!  We won’t know until the end of the year how well he’s reading in Spanish, but he does enjoy it and at this point, that’s all I ask for.

What I’ve noticed as of late, is his willingness to respond to questions in Spanish. Things like casual conversation questions from our teachers are met with a quiet response in Spanish.  He’s also got a fascination with “What language do they speak in ____ ?” He is certainly more aware that they speak different languages around the world. This weekend he told me that he’d like to also master German.

We have an exciting two weeks in Mexico planned this summer, and it’s our first trip south since his enrollment in immersion school. We follow up our trip with a month of Spanish immersion summer camp here locally.  I’m still wondering how we’ll keep up some Spanish learning in August – probably a trip or two to the local library, and maybe find some new music to add to our collection. I have found some online games, but have not given them a test run to see if they get a “¡muy bien!” from anyone. I can say there needs to be more iPad games for language learning. So for all you multilingual programmers out there, start coding!

Alas, I think we feel that in part that this school year has flown by, and in other ways it’s been a lot of work and last September is a distant memory. But as a family we are pleased and thankful to be making this journey. And we are certainly looking forward to what next year has to bring.