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.

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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.