I mentioned before that Diego is in first grade in a Spanish dual immersion program. There are several different models for dual language immersion education, but in Diego’s school the students begin in kindergarten with 90% of the curriculum taught in Spanish and 10% in English. The ideal student composition is 50% Spanish dominant speakers, and 50% English dominant speakers. Every year the ratio of instruction in Spanish to English is reduced. This year Diego is receiving 80% instruction in Spanish and 20% in English. By 5th grade, with a 50/50 ratio, the students should be fully bilingual and biliterate.
This is the goal, and that is my hope for Diego. Over the years I have struggled to become bilingual, to no avail. At best, I am conversant. On the other hand, my husband Juan’s first language was Spanish. He learned a lot of English watching Sesame Street. As Diego becomes more fluent, he and Juan have begun speaking more Spanish around the house. I try to speak Spanish to Diego too, but my accent is terrible. Juan sometimes will make fun of my Spanish, saying I speak like a spaniard, with a Castillian lisp. Hmmm.
This morning, I was drilling Diego on his spelling words, in preparation for his weekly spelling test. I did this by saying the Spanish spelling word, using it in a Spanish sentence and Diego then would spell it out loud, using the Spanish alphabet. I took care to speak each word distinctly so he would hear all the syllables of each word. Sounding the words out this way should have given him a good spelling hint, since Spanish words sound like they are written, unlike the English language, with its words that sound nothing like they are spelled. Words like right, neighbor, enough or receive.
So, as I drilled Diego for his spelling test, I asked him to spell the word sed. It means thirst. He spelled it correctly aloud in Spanish. Then I got to the word, hacer. It means do or make. Diego spelled hacer, h-a-s-e-d. I told him it was wrong and repeated HACER. I was very careful to speak distinctly, trying to roll my r’s. Hacerrrrr. Diego started laughing. Then he told me I was saying the word incorrectly. He began mocking me, speaking like a Spaniard with a Castilian lisp, saying hased, hased, making great fun of his mami! Hmm.
Later, I told Juan about this and he started cracking up. He told me it reminded him of his own childhood, trying to spell in English. He recalled when he was 6 years-old and was thrown into english-speaking kindergarten even though Spanish was his dominant language. He remembered his Spanish-speaking mother quizzing him on spelling words, speaking the words aloud in heavily accented English. Juan remembers becoming so frustrated trying to decipher the English spelling word that he told his mother, “Shakespeare couldn’t teach you English!” Ouch.
Thankfully, Juan has become fully literate in English, however he still relies heavily on spellcheck. Nevertheless, from now on, Juan will be doing all the spelling drills for Diego, in Spanish.