Unique program teaches youngsters the world’s languages

Unique program teaches youngsters the world’s languages
Students in Kate Alva’s third-grade class at Jefferson Elementary School are using the Rosetta Stone method to learn French during their computer lab time. Second- through fifth-graders will learn a different language each year to fulfill an International Baccalaureate requirement. Photo by Bianca Kaplanek

CARLSBAD — When Chad Lund learned students were saying things like, “German rocks,” and “I love French,” the Jefferson Elementary School principal knew his world language program was a hit. 

As an International Baccalaureate school — the only one in the Carlsbad Unified District — Jefferson has additional curriculum requirements, one of which is to provide students with a second language. Until recently, Spanish was the only option.

“About 60 percent of our students are English-language learners,” Lund said. “So we had Spanish-speaking kids taking Spanish.”

When the instructor moved at the end of the last school year, officials were brainstorming ideas to improve the program. At that meeting, someone suggested Rosetta Stone, software that teaches languages without translation, instead using pictures and sound in context.

“Someone sent them an e-mail in my name,” Lund said. “A few days later I heard back and decided to look into it.”

The $16,000 startup cost initially seemed prohibitive, but thanks to the “generous donation” of a parent, Lund said, students began learning different languages when school resumed in September.

Second-graders are still taught Spanish, while students in grade three learn French. Fourth-graders are taught Mandarin and fifth-graders, German.

Lund said students in kindergarten and first grade are a bit too young to participate.

Any program by itself doesn’t do a lot of good, he said, using a surfing analogy.

“You could read every book on surfing, but that doesn’t make you an expert,” he said. “You have to go out there and do it. Learning a language is no different.”

Having studied abroad in college, Lund knows the importance of using a language as you learn it. “You have to go talk to people,” he said.

The program allows students to learn at their own pace during their time in the school’s computer lab. Currently they must transition to the next language when they move forward to the next grade level at the end of the school year.

However, they have access to the program at home, giving them the option to continue the language they learned the previous year — or any other available language as well.

The second part of the plan is to help students apply what they’re learning.

“That way they can see the relevance and hopefully have more incentive to continue,” Lund said.

To fulfill that goal, parents in each grade level are recruiting community members who are native speakers of the languages being taught.

“We also want to expose them to the cultures,” third-grade teacher Kate Alva said. So instead of having a holiday party, her students had French day. They built an Eiffel Tower, made and ate crepes and created a French flag.

“In the spring we’re going to focus on Canada so they become aware that the same language is spoken in different countries,” said Alva, who is taking the French course at home. “They’ll also become pen pals with kids in other nations to open their minds to the world.”

The teachers selected the languages they wanted to present to students in their grade level, and they will have the option to change them each year. Should that happen, Lund said the goal is to teach the most relevant languages.

There is currently no language option in sixth grade, only about 10 percent of seventh-graders take Spanish in middle school and Spanish and French are the sole options in high school, Lund said.

But he is confident by the time his students reach ninth grade more online classes will be available in high school.

It’s far too early to determine whether the program will encourage students to continue pursuing one of the languages they will learn at Jefferson.

But if their current enthusiasm is any indication, the answer is obvious.

“It’s pretty cool that we get to learn a different language,” 8-year-old Mason Bowers said. “It’s neat we get to communicate with people who don’t speak English.”

Mason described the program as “sometimes hard and easy.” He said he likes the simple words, “but then a sentence pops up and that’s hard but then I figure it out.”

In addition to learning French in third grade, Katelyn Lewis takes Chinese classes on Sundays. She said she prefers the Rosetta Stone method. “My Chinese teacher only talks Chinese,” she said. “French is easier to learn.”

Lund said the program is also helping a new fifth-grader who primarily speaks Spanish to learn English.

The program cost is expected to decrease slightly next year because one-time purchases such as headphones were included in the startup fee. Lund said he will seek the money through grants and PTA fundraisers.

So far, the response to the program has “been nothing but positive,” he said. “It’s a small idea that gained momentum, born out of the loss of a Spanish teacher.”

 

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