Learning Spanish at an early age

January 13, 2014


Covenant Christian offering second language.

Teacher Lena Bluestein integrates music and dancing into the instruction.

Teacher Lena Bluestein integrates music and dancing into the instruction.

By D’Ann Rohrer. MCP Correspondent. 

AMBER TWP. — Students at Covenant Christian School are being equipped at an early age to be global citizens. The pre-school through eighth grade school started offering Spanish classes for all its students this year. Teaching the classes is Lens Bluestein, who knows first hand the benefits of learning multiple languages.

Lena teaches Spanish and music together.

“This first year has been challenging to incorporate both subjects but also a benefit since I see the kids twice a week,” she says. “Anytime you are learning a new language the more times a week you practice the better retention. Teaching through music works well.”

Lena has worn many hats at CCS in the past three years, from music instructor, office assistant, to Spanish teacher and she does it all with a smile on her face.

“One benefit to learning a second language helps children understand who ‘us’ is, and who ‘other’ is. It teaches students to have a better global understanding. So many kids will interpret something as, ‘We do things this way’ and ‘They do things that way.’  If you start breaking down cultures by age 10, and through language is the best way to do that, your child will more likely be culturally sensitive and have a better global perspective. There is not just one right way to do things. Some children may think Christmas is done differently in different countries and we do it the right way and they do it the wrong way. By teaching a child a second language they will have a better cultural understanding that there isn’t a right and wrong way there are just different ways.”

Lena, who was born in Norway and raised in a bilingual musical family, enjoyed learning about languages.  Before moving back to the United States for high school she decided to add another language to her repertoire. “I knew I wouldn’t be studying Norwegian in the U.S. so I started to study Spanish and realized after learning two languages it is easier to learn a third.”

Lena recently graduated from Grand Valley State University with a bachelor’s degree in Spanish and a minor in history.  “My minor helps me to teach students about the history and culture of Spain and Latin America,” she says.

spanish6As part of Lena’s bachelor’s degree she spent some time in Grand Rapids schools observing full immersion programs.  “Their curriculum is more in depth so I am creating a supplementary curriculum since I only see the students twice a week,” Lena says. “State guidelines are available but they are suggestions since Spanish, at the elementary level, is not required.”

“I want to teach through immersion. That is my desire but because of the time restraints just the first few minutes of class is totally in Spanish which consists of my greeting, calendar, and some basic instructions.

“Last year everyone was on the same page because it was their first year of Spanish instruction. The challenges are in teaching preschoolers through 8th graders and finding ways to learn through song.

“I try to keep learning Spanish fun.  For the younger kids I will use puppets to teach the colors one day then have them hold cards and objects of that color, or maybe a game or song on different days.  I do different things to teach the same concept.  After repetition I may use the color in a sentence but the kids may only latch onto “rojo” (red) to understand what I am asking and then point to the red object.

“Coloring time I constantly babble in Spanish so they are hearing the language while they are working.  I may praise them in Spanish and they understand by my tone and expression,” she says.

“An example of the progression of teaching Spanish, here at CCS, is preschooler and kindergartener learn the vocabulary for food while second graders learn how to say, ‘I like this food, I don’t like this food’ in a complete Spanish sentence. Fourth graders learn to say, ‘I like this food with an adjective.’  So the students keep building their language knowledge each year.”

“Some students have extended their Spanish learning after school or during the summer by checking out Spanish books from the library.  I try to use more advanced Spanish conversation with them to extend their learning since they are ready and interested. Some students will watch movies in Spanish that way they learn what sounds right without focusing on all the rules.”

In the summer of 2013, Lena offered a Spanish camp for a week in July.  “I had almost 10 students in each age level, kindergarten through 2nd graders in the morning and third through fifth graders in the afternoon.  It was very successful since students had a longer time period to focus on Spanish, three hours each day.  Students had 80-90% retention of vocabulary words during Spanish camp compared to 20% during a school week.


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