UI students help revive foreign language program

UI students help revive foreign language program

CHAMPAIGN – "Mi barba tiene tres pelos. Tres pelos tiene mi barba. (My beard has three hairs)," sang Karen Trower, as she made exaggerated gestures, touching her chin and her hair, along with a group of second-grade students at Westview Elementary School.

"Si no tuviera tres pelos, pues no siera una barba. (If it didn't have three hairs, it wouldn't be a beard)," they sang.

They were one of three groups learning Spanish in an after-school foreign language program at Westview. Trower said she and the other teachers – all University of Illinois students in Spanish education – use songs and games to engage the students.

"We try to interact with them as much as possible. We try to get them moving," she said. "They need to be interested in what they're doing.

"They love going home and telling their parents what they learned," continued Trower, who was recently teaching her students words to use on valentines. "I was teaching them how to say 'I love you'. They said, 'What if my parents don't understand?' That's the great thing. (I told them,) 'You guys can be the teacher and teach your parents about it.' They got really excited about that."

The classes were started last fall by PTA parent Kelly Hill, after a hiatus of several years since Westview last offered an after-school language program. Hill's youngest daughter, a first-grader at Westview, had Spanish every day while at a private kindergarten, and Hill wanted her to continue learning the language.

Hill and other PTA moms recruited teachers from the UI. The classes meet for 45 minutes twice a week. Last fall, they offered Mandarin as well as Spanish, but they couldn't get a Mandarin teacher for the spring session.

"We're just really excited to offer something to the kids," Hill said. "We have a pretty diverse student body at Westview.

"It's really been fun to see how they've been creative to bring language to the kids, rather than it just being another 45 minutes of sitting in a seat after the school day."

Fourth-grader Paloma Gonzalez's parents are from Mexico, and she wants to understand her grandmother better. Her grandmother speaks to her in Spanish. Paloma usually answers in English.

"I've got to learn a little more to understand her," she said.

Breahna Ramirez, a first-grade student, also wants to speak Spanish – her father's native language – to her family in Mexico.

"We've taught her some at home, but we thought it would be more fun if she could do it in a class and learn a little more quickly," said Breahna's mother, Stephanie Ramirez, who would like to see the school district offer foreign language classes in elementary school. "It will always be useful, especially Spanish, because there are so many Spanish speakers in our community. And it's easier to do when they're young."

Colleen Olmstead agrees. She has two children in the after-school Spanish program.

"I feel it helps keep the school competitive with private schools and the gifted programs," she said of offering foreign language at the elementary level, adding it might spark the interest of a child who otherwise would not have been interested in language classes.

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