Planting the Seeds: Language Acquisition at Spanish Schoolhouse

As our world becomes more and more interconnected, speaking multiple languages takes on a new value. At Spanish Schoolhouse, through our experience with thousands of students, we’ve seen how bilingualism empowers children. They gain proven cognitive and social advantages that give them opportunities for life!

This is certainly exciting for parents, but some are hesitant about committing to an immersion preschool environment because they don’t quite know what to expect. This post will give you a little insight into how language acquisition unfolds through the SSH preschool/kindergarten years.

What Linguists Say

Here’s a look at how linguistic researchers and language educators describe the second-language acquisition process. We summarized this framework from ¡Colorín colorado!, a bilingual website for educators and families of language learners.

1. Pre-Production, sometimes called “the silent period,” when students take in a new language but don’t speak it yet.

2. Early Production, when students start speaking short words and sentences but the main focus is still on listening and absorbing the new language (many errors are expected at this stage).

3. Speech Emergence, when speech becomes more frequent and words and sentences are longer. The child still relies on context clues and familiar topics. Vocabulary increases and mistakes decline, especially with common or repeated dialog.

4. Beginning Fluency, when speech is quite fluent in social situations and there are few errors. Children will still struggle to express themselves in new contexts or academic areas due to gaps in vocabulary.

5. Intermediate Fluency, when communicating in the second language is comfortable, especially in social language situations. Children can speak almost fluently in new situations or in academic areas (with few errors) but there will still be gaps in vocabulary and some unknown expressions. They show higher-order thinking skills in the second language (like giving opinions or analyzing problems).

6. Advanced Fluency, when children communicate fluently in all contexts, even when exposed to challenging new contexts. They may still have an accent and incorrectly use expressions sometimes, but they’re basically fluent and are very comfortable communicating in the second language.

How Does This Happen at Spanish Schoolhouse?

Children are individuals with unique rates of learning. Their personal journeys to becoming bilingual are influenced by their learning styles, the number of days they attend preschool, how early they start, and their previous exposure to Spanish, etc. However, here is a general overview of the language development you can expect at SSH. We love to plant the seeds of Spanish language and culture, and we’re proud to watch our students bloom!

Year One: “Planting the Seed” 

Much like when children learned their first language, the goal for the first year at SSH is for students to learn language patterns, build a base of vocabulary, and understand the spoken language. For most students, the first year incorporates the Pre-Production, Early Production, and Speech Emergence phases described above. Teachers encourage learning with “Yes/No” questions, and prompts like, “Where is…? How many…? Who has…?”

By the end of the first year, most students understand 80% – 100% of the Spanish language used in class. They follow verbal directions, understand the class lessons, and process language patterns.

Most students at this stage will have a large vocabulary and be able to use the words either by themselves, in pairs, or in three-word phrases. You’ll likely hear your child singing some of the songs learned at school, as music is a great conduit for learning! True to its description as “the silent period”, language learning in the first year may not be as evident as it is in later stages. However, this first year is VITAL in laying the foundation for speaking the language. You have planted the seed, now watch it grow!

Year Two: “The Seed Sprouts”

All the skills acquired to this point start to come together in exciting ways!

The second year at SSH is when we often see the characteristics of Beginning Fluency/Intermediate Fluency. It’s a time when children are repeating words and expressions frequently, building vocabulary, and beginning to use the language naturally.

You’ll hear your child respond verbally in Spanish to the teacher, participate in class lessons in Spanish, and use the language spontaneously. By the end of this year, your child will likely understand Spanish well and begin to think in Spanish. You may see children mixing elements of both languages during this time. This is normal as they start thinking in Spanish and using it naturally.

Year Three: “A Flower Blooms”

In the third SSH preschool year or the kindergarten year, it’s exciting to see students thinking in Spanish without translation, and communicating their thoughts comfortably using the language! This is a period of Intermediate Fluency when your child begins to be able to carry on a conversation in Spanish with a near-perfect accent and sound like a native speaker!

In the classroom environment or with other Spanish speakers, your child will think and respond in Spanish without hesitation. Teachers encourage more advanced expression with deeper questions such as, “What would happen if…? Why do you think….? Decide if… or Retell…” Students begin communicating with each other more readily in Spanish, using the language on their own. Your child will have acquired a strong base and will be ready to take off to Advanced Fluency!

Helping Children Achieve Bilingualism and Biculturalism

All throughout the language-learning process, children are constantly creating neural pathways that make the brain more robust, more developed, and more active. This improves executive function with skills like memory, organization, attention, and time management. What a gift! Beyond these cognitive boosts and the awesome ability to communicate in another language, language immersion helps children develop a love and respect for other cultures and a worldview that helps create a brighter future for us all!

So, what do you think?