Spanish, Lesson Number One

Let the Children Guide You

By Amber Goslee

I began my lessons in Spanish earlier this year. I learned simple things--numbers: pretty much 1-10, some colors: rojo, azul, amarillo, blanco, negro, verde; items: pencil, book, sun, shoe, shirt; people: teacher, children. You see, I had the opportunity to be a visiting teacher in a bilingual kindergarten class in southern San Diego. All of the children spoke Spanish, a few spoke English, and most understood, but did not speak, English. The parent helper spoke only Spanish, I spoke none.  What choice did I have but to learn a little Spanish?  Well, I didnít have to, that certainly is true, but why not?

At first, I was really nervous.  What might happen if they are trying to tell me something and I canít figure it out?  What if I need to tell them something and they canít understand me?  The parents who stuck around for a while after bringing in their little ones are watching me.  Do they trust that their children will be okay with me?  As I read their names, they giggle.  As I try to explain what I want them to do, they giggle.  It was little Robertoís first day of school and he didnít understand me, so said his mother, who stuck around longer than the rest translating for him on this first day.  Will he cry when she leaves?  What then?

I followed the teacherís directions and read aloud two stories: The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Jump, Frog, Jump!  They enjoyed each one and as they slowly chimed in and became more engaged, I felt more secure, and, well, I think they too felt more comfortable.  The parents inched their way out the door.  Was it because they felt confident that their children were going to be all right, or did they have places to go, or both?

Each of the rotating groups read another story with me and with the extra time we reread one of the stories we had read earlier.  It was during this time that my Spanish lessons began.  I asked them to be los maestros (the teachers) and teach me some Spanish.  My five year old instructors were delighted to do so.  At first, they waited until I pointed to something.  Then, they began to point and tell.  I soon became overwhelmed and was thrilled that they too were exhibiting so much enthusiasm! 

Although my parent helper didnít speak English or really understand much of what I said, she was a terrific help.  Aside from working with her group as the teacher had planned, she was able to communicate with the children, especially helpful to Roberto who was unfamiliar with the routine, and assisted in other ways throughout the day, helping it to run smoothly.  We didnít have much difficulty understanding one another as I initially feared, for gestures worked well, and sometimes the children even helped.  I listened when she spoke, and I learned.

I will continue to learn Spanish as I live and teach here in San Diego, but I will never forget my first lesson.  They were superb teachers and I, la studiante, had a blast!

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