Monday, March 1, 2004

Now students hablan in elementary school

By Karen Gutierrez
The Cincinnati Enquirer

FORT WRIGHT - Twice a week, parents pay to have a Spanish teacher visit Fort Wright Elementary School.They want a head start for their kids, and the kids are responding.

"I love it," says Jonah Scott, 10.

Fort Wright Spanish teacher Sofia Brophy uses the Total Physical Response (TPR) with fifth graders, in which she tells students in Spanish to do something - in this case put their hands on their heads.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
Now he can "buy and sell stuff" if he ever visits a Spanish-speaking country, he says. And learning a second language isn't so tough for children, especially compared to adults.

"Our minds can absorb stuff, and their minds have already been grown," Jonah says.

Yep. That's pretty much how adults see it, too.

Across the region, parents are beginning to clamor for foreign-language instruction in elementary schools, because young children are the most open to mimicking new sounds. Despite tight budgets and a shortage of qualified teachers, some schools are finding ways to make it happen.

This year, St. Thomas School in Fort Thomas started weekly Spanish instruction in kindergarten through eighth grade. Beechwood Eleientary School in Fort Mitchell began offering French about three years ago. Walton-Verona Elementary has taught Spanish to sixth-graders for several years and plans to add other lower grades soon.

Children in Campbell County elementaries are watching Spanish lessons on video as part of the district's "Building Better Brains" initiative. At Grant's Lick Elementary, a Spanish teacher visits twice a week, and the school's Parent Teacher Association helps pay her salary.

It's worth it, says Stefanie Feltner, a parent at Fort Wright Elementary. She encouraged the PTA to hire a Spanish teacher, Sof╠a Brophy, from WorldSpeak Language Services in Cincinnati.

Brophy visits the school twice a week for six weeks at a time, working with children in every grade.

"I just think in the future, with their jobs, it's going to be hugely applicable, and I think by having it now, it's just going to be easier for them when they hit junior high," Feltner says.

The interest in language instruction is a growing trend, says Jacque Van Houten, world language consultant for the Kentucky Department of Education.

Parents see immigrant populations exploding in Greater Cincinnati, and they want their children prepared to understand other cultures. They also know that bilingualism will help young people find jobs in the global economy.

Then there's the brain research that shows children have a window of opportunity, from roughly age 5 to 10, when they can mimic sounds and learn language naturally.

In addition, youngsters who study English and a foreign language get a double dose of literacy education, which boosts their overall skills, Van Houten says.

Adding the instruction isn't always easy, though.

In Fort Thomas several years ago, parents at Woodfill Elementary School pushed for Spanish lessons, but the effort fell apart when an affordable teacher could not be found.

Last year, Kentucky set aside $500,000 for 10 elementary schools to test a program combining foreign language and art. One school had to give up its grant when it couldn't find a Spanish teacher. Another wanted to offer Japanese and is still searching for an instructor.

The University of Kentucky produces many of the state's education majors. But only five of this year's graduates will be certified to teach foreign language - three in Spanish and two in Latin, Van Houten says.

Brophy, the WorldSpeak instructor who visits Fort Wright Elementary, is a native Spanish speaker who doesn't have a teaching certificate. But the program meets public-school standards because a certified teacher is always present in the room.

Brophy has been trained in a teaching method known as "total physical response," in which children jump, walk, sit, stand and make other motions in response to commands given in Spanish.

"Caminen hacia la puerta," Brophy says to a roomful of fifth-graders, and they eagerly follow her instructions to walk toward the door. Sometimes the students debate what Brophy has said, but often they seem to instantly recognize the words.

Their enthusiasm underscores another difference between adults and kids.

"We seem to get a little more excited," says Mick Mabe, 10.

Jonah agrees.

"It's like, 'Wow, a new language!'" he says. "We're going to go to a new world and stuff."

Vocabulario Espanol

Some of the directions Fort Wright Elementary School students have learned:

Pongan el papel en el piso.

(Everyone put your paper on the floor.)

Canten y bailen.

(Everyone sing and dance.)

T█quense la cabeza, los hombros, los pies, la nariz, los ojos.

(Everyone touch your head, shoulders, feet, nose, eyes.)


For more information on WorldSpeak Language Services, send email to



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