Mandarin and Spanish for kindergartners

Sep. 10, 2013 @ 02:52 PM

How many kindergartners can speak Spanish or Chinese in addition to their native tongue? About 130 at Holt Elementary School.

The Holt Elementary Language Academy launched this school year, bringing in more than 100 kindergartners who will be taught Spanish and Mandarin Chinese each day with the hopes of being conversationally fluent by fifth grade.
“We have international faculty who are teaching the language and integrating the culture,” said Holt principal Star Sampson. “This is new and innovative and as we learn to work together in these learning teams anyway, our children will have that experience but globally.”
The kindergartners are broken into two language classes with 25 or so students in each. The parents were given the option to choose which language they wanted their children to learn but many had no preference.
Spanish is taught by Viviana Galindo, a native of Columbia, while Mandarin Chinese is taught by Ya Chun Lee-Leung, a native of Taiwan.
Both teachers have different approaches but they see the children learning and engaging in their native cultures and languages.
“It’s a really fun experience,” Galindo said of teaching kindergartners Spanish. “I’m sharing my culture with them and they’re sharing their culture with me. It’s very important for them to understand that they are students in Durham but also of the world.”
Galindo had her students repeating after her in Spanish. The students recited numbers in Spanish as well as words and the alphabet.
Like foreign language courses in higher grades, Galindo and Lee-Leung only speak to their students in Spanish and Mandarin. With each word the two teachers spoke the children would smile, nod, then reply.
Lee-Leung said that sharing her culture has been a two-way learning experience as well.
“They think it’s cool, the Chinese culture,” Lee-Leung explained. “They’re sponges right now. I am surprised that they are interested in Mandarin Chinese.”
Lee-Leung comes from a performing background and integrates that experience into her teaching.
“I use a lot of drums and clapping, making some rhythms they can follow,” she said.
She also uses flashcards with the English word, a picture of the object followed by the Chinese character to help her students learn. Not limiting her skills to just kindergartners, Lee-Leung also teaches children in some of the other grade levels.
One of those includes a second-grade class. Lined up on stage, the students sang a song completely in Mandarin after only practicing it a total of six times.
One of those second-graders was Osmara Rodriguez, who said she enjoys the singing.
“We learn new things,” Rodriguez said. “I love everything about it, the clothes, everything.”
She said that she has been trying to teach her siblings but has been unsuccessful so far.
Ahonesti Parker is one of the kindergartners in Galindo’s Spanish class and she said that she likes learning another language.
“I get to teach Spanish and learn it,” Parker said, referring to her attempts to teach her siblings Spanish. “I sing the songs at home. I tell them to my family.”
Myra Scott has been teaching for more than 20 years and could not stop smiling as she talked about the language program.
“I enjoy it. We integrate it as much as possible. We involve all of the language throughout the day. The students are very much engaged in the activities,” Scott said.
The integration is part of the school’s global focus. Each grade level focuses on an area of the world. Despite learning Mandarin and Spanish, the kindergartners are focusing on North America. First-graders are focusing on South America, third-graders on Africa, fourth-graders on Oceania and fifth-graders on Europe.
The Europe hall is decorated with life-size cutouts of monks and knights. The second-grade hall has two pandas greeting those coming to visit as they sit by a great wall. It’s a short elevator ride to the kindergartners and North America.
Erin Motte teaches one of the kindergarten classes at Holt and said that she is happy about the excitement and involvement of her students.
“They are definitely very curious about the language,” Motte said. “The non ESL (English as a Second Language) kids that are thriving with the Spanish piece, they are more vocal. They remember a lot and the parents are saying their (the students) are singing their songs and saying the alphabet.”
Motte said that she and other instructors tell the children how important it is to learn another language.
“They’re so excited and they pick up on it so quickly,” she said. “It’s so great for these children to have the opportunity to learn it.”
Besides teaching the students, the kindergartners are also teaching their parents a lesson in empathy.
“Our parents have a better understanding of how ESL parents have to adapt,” Motte said. “It’s a kind of role reversal for non-ESL parents to see what ESL parents go through and the support they need.”