As our world becomes more and more interconnected, speaking multiple languages becomes even more valuable. At Spanish Schoolhouse, we’ve taught thousands of students the Spanish language, and we’ve seen how bilingualism empowers children. They gain proven cognitive and social advantages that set them up for a lifetime of opportunities!
This is certainly exciting for parents, although some are hesitant about committing to an immersive preschool environment because they don’t quite know what to expect. Keep reading to get a little insight into how language acquisition unfolds during preschool and kindergarten at SSH Creekside.
The 6 Steps of Language Acquisition
Here’s a look at how linguistic researchers and language educators describe the second-language acquisition process. We summarized this framework from ¡Colorín colorado! a bilingual website for educators and families of language learners.
1. Pre-Production: Students are introduced to Spanish, but don’t speak it yet; this is also known as “the silent period.”
2. Early Production: Students start speaking short words and sentences, but the main focus is still on listening and absorbing the new language (many errors are expected at this stage).
3. Speech Emergence: Speech becomes more frequent and words and sentences are longer. The child still relies on context clues and familiar topics. Their Spanish vocabulary increases and mistakes decline, especially with common or repeated dialogue.
4. Beginning Fluency: Speech is quite fluent in social situations and there are few errors. Children will still struggle to express themselves in new contexts or academic areas due to gaps in vocabulary.
5. Intermediate Fluency: Communicating in the second language is comfortable, especially in social language situations. Children can speak almost fluently in new situations and academic areas (with few errors), but there will still be gaps in vocabulary and some unknown expressions. They show higher-order thinking skills in the second language (like giving opinions or analyzing problems).
6. Advanced Fluency: Children speak Spanish fluently in all contexts, even when exposed to challenging new contexts. They may still have an accent and incorrectly use expressions sometimes, but they’re essentially fluent and are very comfortable communicating in the second language.
How Does This Happen at Spanish Schoolhouse Creekside?
Children are unique individuals that learn at different rates. Their personal journeys to becoming bilingual are influenced by their learning styles, the number of days they attend preschool, how early they start, their previous exposure to Spanish, and more. The steps to language acquisition just provide a general overview of the language development process, and what you can expect at SSH Creekside. We love planting the seeds that help children grow into proficient Spanish speakers and teaching them about culture. We’re proud to watch our students bloom in our immersive Spanish classes!
Year One: “Planting the Seed”
Much like when children learned their first language, the goal for the first year at SSH is for students to learn language patterns, build a base of vocabulary, and understand the spoken language. For most students, the first year incorporates the pre-production, early production, and speech emergence phases described above. Teachers encourage learning with yes or no questions, and prompts like, “Where is…? How many…? Who has…?”
By the end of the first year, most students understand 80% – 100% of the Spanish language used in class. They follow verbal directions, understand the class lessons, and process language patterns.
Most students at this stage will have a large vocabulary and be able to use the words either by themselves or in pairs. You’ll likely hear your child singing some of the songs learned at school, as music is a great catalyst for learning! True to its description as “the silent period,” language learning in the first year may not be as evident as it is in later stages. However, this first year is vital in laying the foundation for speaking the language. The seed is planted, now watch it grow!
Year Two: “The Seed Sprouts”
All the skills acquired at this point start to come together in exciting ways!
The second year at SSH Creekside is when we often see the characteristics of beginning fluency or intermediate fluency. It’s a time when children are repeating words and expressions frequently, building vocabulary, and beginning to use the language naturally.
You’ll hear your child respond verbally in Spanish to the teacher, participate in class lessons in Spanish, and use the language spontaneously. By the end of this year, your child will likely understand Spanish well and begin to think in Spanish. You may see children mixing elements of both languages during this time. This is normal as they start thinking in Spanish and using it naturally.
Year Three: “A Flower Blooms”
In the third SSH preschool year or the kindergarten year, it’s exciting to see students thinking in Spanish without translation, and communicating their thoughts comfortably using the language! This is a period of intermediate fluency. Your child begins to carry on a conversation in Spanish with a near-perfect accent and sounds like a native speaker!
In the classroom or with other Spanish speakers, your child will think and respond in Spanish without hesitating. Teachers encourage more advanced expression with deeper questions such as, “What would happen if…? Why do you think….? Decide if… or Retell…” Students begin communicating with each other more readily in Spanish. Your child will have acquired a strong base and will be ready to take off to Advanced Fluency!
Helping Children Achieve Bilingualism and Biculturalism
All throughout the language-learning process, children are constantly creating neural pathways that make the brain more robust, more developed, and more active. This improves executive function with skills like memory, organization, attention, and time management. What a gift! Beyond these cognitive boosts and the awesome ability to communicate in another language, language immersion helps children develop a love and respect for other cultures and a worldview that helps create a brighter future for us all!