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Cottonwood Heights Journal

5 tips for parents of dual-immersion students

Feb 26, 2020 10:59AM ● By Julie Slama

At a recent Canyons School District dual immersion night, parents were given tips from district dual language staff, including Spanish Coordinator Ofelia Wade, to help support their children. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Ridgecrest Elementary parent Andrea Knight knows some basics in Mandarin, but she isn’t fluent, and wants to support her third-grade daughter, Maeli, who is in the school’s dual immersion program.

“I want to learn more how to help her,” Knight said at Canyons School District’s recent dual immersion program parent night.

Parents who do not know the target language can successfully support their children’s language learning, said Ofelia Wade, dual language immersion Spanish coordinator.

“When we approach language learning, many people think of it the same way as math, with specific skill set,” Wade said. “With language, it develops the same way as the child’s first language, with constant exposure, hearing it in context, and eventually, generating a response we understand. Being exposed to the target language in a contextual way is the best opportunity to learn.”

Wade, who recently was honored by the Spanish government for her DLI (dual language immersion) work, offered tips for those parents who want to support their children’s learning, but do not know the target language in the dual immersion program.

• Watch a movie or television show in the target language. “If they’re already familiar with the show or sport, such as soccer, then they’ll already have an understanding and will begin to learn the language as it applies to the rules, conversation, culture,” Wade said, adding that most movies watched at home can change the track to the target language.

• Play an online game or listen to the radio or audiobook. If an audiobook isn’t available, contact a nearby college or university and ask to have a contact of an international student and pay that student to record the book. “In one community, the dual immersion parents created a summer book reading club so their students could listen to the books, then speak in the targeted language to each other about them,” Wade said.

• Encourage other dual immersion children to get together for a play date, whether it’s to create crafts related to the language’s culture or holiday, or to converse with each other. Wade also said often an international college student would welcome being immersed into local culture and may be willing to take part in an activity or having conversations with the children on a regular basis. She also suggested to talk to native-speaking teachers who have their children here and invite their children to take part alongside those who are learning the language.

• Go to local restaurants and stores and have the children interact with servers or grocery store clerks. “I’ve taken my grandchildren who are learning French and will have them order in the language,” Wade said, adding that she will slip the server the order in English just to ensure it’s accurate. “It’s very powerful for the children to be able to communicate and have that opportunity.” She said if parents make it a habit to go to a market weekly and have students ask for regular items the family may buy, such as milk, it will tremendously support the child’s ability in the target language.

• Arrange to have the child exchange emails, telephone calls, FaceTime or other ways to communicate on a weekly basis with those who are fluent in the language. “This will especially be helpful for middle school and high school students as the AP test they take in ninth or 10th grades will have a similar section, so this is a perfect way to support their learning,” Wade said.

Wade also said that when parents set time for the child to practice, reinforce that practice (similar to attending a recital for piano or a game for a sport) and acknowledge their successes, they will be supportive to students learning their target languages.

“Parents are capable of supporting their children learning the language even if they don’t speak it,” she said. “By doing this, it will empower children to feel like they can do more and be successful.”

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