Saturday, July 27, 2013

Spanish Acquisition Update

I thought it would be fun to post about our family's learning of Spanish.

I definitely started with the most Spanish of the five of us, and at this point I can usually understand whatever someone is trying to tell me (though I do often have to get people to repeat themselves throughout a conversation) and I can communicate what I'm trying to say--even if it sometimes feels like I'm playing Outburst with a store employee or friend: "I need that thing that you put in the sink to keep the water in the sink" (plug) or "Don't keep the blender on high, do like cchhhhh,  ccchhhhh,  cchhhhh" (pulse).  It has helped me that I do a lot of our shopping and interactions with others outside our home.  I've had to learn.

I felt good the other day with my Spanish level because I was able to catch an error and communicate it.  I called a pharmacy to get some medicine (they'll deliver a few pills at your house for you) for my son and after I got them I wasn't convinced by the packaging that it was the right strength (it was supposed to be 20 mg but didn't say that anywhere and there was a 50 randomly on the back of the pills and I thought, "Surely that can't be 50 mg?").  I called the pharmacist and he assured me it was the right strength and I explained about the 50 and still he still said it was right.  But then I said it was for a child and I wanted to be sure and he went and double-checked.  Then he came back and said, "Oh, sorry, we made a mistake, I'll send you the right pills."  And I thought, wow, I'm glad my Spanish is good enough to question him and make him check again.

Owen's Spanish will soon become more accurate than mine because he is more disciplined to do the Spanish drills on his ipad and he has a Latin background which helps him.  He will probably never sound as natural or conversational as me (occasionally someone makes my day by asking me if I'm from Spain--they can tell I'm not Dominican but don't think I sound American) but he is already starting to correct my word choices in Spanish just as he corrects them in English.  He will also never speak as fast in Spanish because he is just a slower processor than I am.  But all of the Dominican teachers in the school appreciate that their American boss tries to communicate with them primarily in Spanish and that he has improved so drastically in just one year.

Micah is our oldest and moved here just after he passed the window for easy language learning.  I read that through age six kids will easily pick up a foreign language through exposure.  Micah turned seven right after we moved here.  So he was the child I thought might have the most trouble.  But he had an excellent teacher at school who taught him so much last year, and we had him (and Jesse) tutored after school once a week.  He has a great accent and is acquiring a substantial vocabulary.  At first he didn't want to interact with anyone speaking Spanish.  But now, having heard Spanish spoken around him for a year and having the base from his class, he's willing to speak some with friends or adults.  While we were in the states (and I was worried that they may be forgetting all their Spanish) I quizzed him and his brother by saying things in Spanish and seeing if they knew what I was saying.  And I was shocked to find that he knew almost everything I was saying.

Jesse is at the same level as  Micah, but he picked up his Spanish from friends in his class.  While the school is taught in English, the kids in the pre-K classes speak almost no English.  So almost all of their communication is in Spanish, and Jesse picked a lot up last year just listening to his friends.  His accent is perfect (according to our best Dominican friend) and, although I am told I have a great accent, he'll correct me on the pronunciation of one of his friend's names and though I can't hear any difference in how we're saying it, I think he just has a more finely attuned ear for slight differences.  He's still in that magical age range to absorb language effortlessly.  He had never been able to roll his "r's" in the states, and he picked it up without trying last year.  I predict that he'll be able to speak like a Dominican in a few years.

Abigail's language learning fascinated me most of all.  She approached Spanish as she had approached English as a one year-old.  She turned two right when we moved here (right after, actually, so we could have her fly here as a lap child).  She was speaking clearly in English and had a huge vocabulary, she no longer used baby talk in English.  But hearing Spanish, she behaved like I would imagine an infant raised in a Spanish-speaking country would behave.  She didn't initially like if people spoke Spanish to her (and she really didn't like how often people wanted to touch her cheek and tell her "How beautiful, God bless her!").  But the longer we were here and the more she watched me speaking Spanish with people, the more I'd hear her echoing the sound of the words I'd just said, imitating me softly while playing or standing behind me.  I'd be on the phone or talking and it when I'd stop I'd hear the sound of the last thing I'd said echoed back. She'll pick up a book and pretend to read to herself in Spanish, and make very Spanish-sounding noises with some Spanish words mixed in.  And now she'll talk to people in Spanish some.  With fairly accurate Spanish, usually.  She'll throw in some made up Spanishy words sometimes and my maid will ask me what she said.  And I say, "I don't know, she's not speaking English either."

I find it incredible to see how well all three of my kids are doing using three different approaches to learning the language.

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