It’s no secret that languages are an interest of mine.  I’ve been teaching Spanish for almost five years now, and it’s a job I adore.  I teach students ages 5 to 14, from zero beginners to intermediate learners.  We have fun in class together and in general, I receive plenty of positive feedback about the program.  There are parts to learning a language, however, that not all parents understand.

When parents bring their child into my classroom for a visit, the first thing they do always upsets me.  I hear a phrase like this:

Say something in Spanish!

or something along the lines of,

How do you say table?  Come on, you know how to say table!  Say table!  Show her what you remember.

I understand that parents want to see progress in their child.  After a few years of taking a language, you naturally want to know that it is making a difference.  Although I would argue that they are not seeing the progress that I see.  Let me share an example.

I have three nieces, all under two years old.  I am fascinated by watching them grow month by month.  The oldest, turning two, has now become a chatter box of all kinds of vocabulary, from phrases she’s heard us repeat to characters and animals from her books.  Back when she was still a baby, I remember watching her language growth with wonder.  We could ask her anything about the house, and she would be able to point it out.  Cosette, where’s the lamp?  Where’s the window?  She hadn’t even muttered a word yet, but she knew exactly what was what.  As she progressed, I noticed the development of her speaking abilities.  For a while, she would use the third person to talk about herself.  She repeated phrases as they would come to her, such as, Cosette sits down instead of I sit down.  Now she is beginning to use first person more and make those distinctions in her speech.

I think to the students in my classes.  They are exposed to Spanish 1-2 hours per week, for 9 months of the year.  My niece has been hearing English around her every day since the day she was born.  She spent most of the time listening, not saying a word; absorbing, but not responding.  She grew to connect meaning to things around her.  Eventually, she’s started to create her own sentences, even though they are mainly copied phrases.

It frustrates me to see students held to the expectations of their ambitious parents.  They mean well, but they don’t always see how progress looks from my perspective.  When they come to my room and begin quizzing their seven-year-old, instead of getting flustered or starting a discussion on the topic, I show them what they’re looking for.  I might ask,

Is that a silla or a mesa?

or

Point to the puerta!

Parents light up when they see their child immediately recognize the words I mention.  They are relieved that it hasn’t all been a waste.  It’s my hope that they also realize that they were simply asking the wrong questions.

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