Have you ever listened to telecommunications recordings? Often the option of both English and Spanish will be available, which suggests there might not be a fixed language for the United States. Certainly, English is the lingua franca within our borders, but for as long as our country has been settled, many different languages have been a part of our society.
The Guilderland Central School District is now offering children an opportunity to become part of the ever-changing cultural experience in the United States by offering the FLES program. FLES (which stands for Foreign Language Early Start) is, according to board of education member Barbara Fraterrigo, a new initiative we’ve started this year where kindergarten, grade one and grade two students are being exposed to the Spanish language.
Kindergarten students participate in 20-minute sessions and first and second graders participate in 30-minute sessions that foster exposure to both the language and culture.
`We’ve hired two Spanish teachers who are devoting their time exclusively [to the FLES Program],` said Fraterrigo, `The whole idea is that there’s not a universal language in this country.`
`This was all generated by parents and board members,` said Al Martino, Guilderland’s foreign language supervisor. `We worked for several years to get this up and running.`
`The goals are to develop proficiency in Spanish language and cultural acceptance. We accomplish these goals by integrating into our Spanish program elements from our regular program,` said Martino.
The program will link the foreign language to what is being taught in the rest of the curriculum. For example, the day children begin basic arithmetic, the Spanish teachers will teach numbers in Spanish, creating a bond between the two programs that coordinates learning.
A typical class begins with songs and practice that helps to solidify the language in the children’s minds.
`The routine is very structured,` said FLES teacher Delfina Camilo-Arroyo. `We use props, and we act out what we are talking about.`
A positive attitude helps the children feel comfortable with the new material they learn each week. This is especially important because the classes are taught almost entirely in Spanish, with very little English spoken. However, rather than use flash cards and other common methods of teaching foreign languages, FLES teachers use immersion to help children associate the new vocabulary with ideas rather than just words. This approach to learning has proven to be very effective.
`Studies have shown that immersion is the best way to teach. A piecemeal approach is very artificial,` said FLES teacher Rebecca Frank. `Why not just show them the color red? It’s much more authentic.`
Children are reacting well to the FLES program, district administrators said.
`The children seem very welcoming of the program,` said Frank. `Even walking down the hall I feel like a celebrity. Response to the program has been really positive. I’m impressed ` they retain a lot.`
Ultimately, everyone involved is hopeful for the future of the program. It will expand in coming years to include third, fourth, and fifth graders, all of whom will have been exposed to the program already.
`All the research indicates that the earlier a child starts a foreign language, the more adept he or she becomes at it,` said Fraterrigo, `In addition to that, it also helps other skills. We’re excited.`
`Children have this capacity that we don’t have,` Frank said. `It’s magic ` they can switch from one language to another in a way adults can’t. I feel like this is my professional niche. I’m very happy here.` “