language immersion: give folder to parins

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My son has just begun his third year of a Spanish language immersion program. We are hugely blessed that the public school district in which we reside offers this and that he was selected (literally, his name pulled out of a brown paper bag) to be one of the students who attends. 

The worst part of this program is his spelling. He used to be ahead of grade-level with spelling, and now... disaster. Spellings in English make no sense, while almost everything in Spanish is spelled phonetically.  My favorite quote on the matter:

English lurks in dark alleys, beats up other languages, and rifles through their pockets for spare vocabulary.

A friend of mine teaches at a local college and asked for our thoughts on the pro's and con's of the program.

Here are our (unedited) responses.

From my son:

Because you can learn another language and speak with people that speak a different language. It’s fun. You can make new friends that speak Spanish because you can talk with them. It helps you think. It’s cool to learn another language. If you get teased for knowing another language, it isn’t that you’re weird. You can tell the other person they are wrong.

Learn from a teacher who is really good at speaking Spanish and a teacher that was born learning Spanish. You have to listen very, very carefully and study a lot. Speak the language you are learning a lot. You can make poems or songs to have a fun way to memorize your words. During the summer, you should read a lot of Spanish books so you can practice for the harder grade that’s ahead of you.

From me:

My son’s participation in Spanish Immersion has made him more aware of the possibility that he might be able to understand things. Receptive language skills in Spanish, for example, caused him to ask me to pause the radio on scan on a Spanish station and make several attempts to tell the rest of us what they were saying. I think he’s less likely to immediately tune something out without first making at least an attempt to listen closely.

Expressively, he speaks Spanish comfortably to his level in the classroom but only makes attempts to speak Spanish in the community when prompted. For example, if his bi-lingual teachers at the YMCA speak to him in Spanish, he pauses and responds in Spanish, but when he first enters, he continues speaking English as he was with me. He has a very good ear for pronunciation, speaking with very little American accent, so it’s been interesting to me to hear him transition from English to Spanish. In the very early weeks of his first year, I was testing him on color vocab red (rojo), green (verde), and then I switched and said azul and he responded blue, but pronounced it with a "Spanish intonation" and not his normal English-speaking voice. He thought it was hilarious, and I really enjoyed seeing this tangible example of how his brain was learning to transition between the two languages.

Oral reading has always been a great strength of his, but I do think that being forced to read words he doesn’t and wouldn’t understand at all in Spanish has made him more willing to ‘gloss over’ words in English rather than make an attempt to sound them out and understand them. For example, if he sees ‘creatividad’, he might read it too quickly and miss a syllable—something like ‘creatvidad’—but maybe that doesn’t matter because he didn’t know what ‘creatividad’ meant anyway. However, I think he’s unfortunately more likely to do this in English. Instead of pausing to see if it’s a word he knows or can decode (like turning ‘peculiar’—a word he would know—into a made-up like ‘pec-lee-er’), he is more likely to just say nonsense and finish the sentence without understanding the new word.

If I had a "biggest complaint" (which I don't because we were very specifically warned about this before joining the program), written expression is definitely the biggest area of regression I’ve seen. His spelling and phonics in English were well ahead of his age level and now everything is spelled like a complete disaster. (Or... truth be told, English spelling is the disaster and his spelling make phonetic sense!)