Spanish Translates Into Academic Success

“Hola,” the Spanish word for hello, often rings out in the hallways and playgrounds of JCDS as students as young as three greet each other and their teachers. Experts say that young children are wired to learn world languages in the most natural of ways: through play and exploration. Studies have shown that the brain in children under 10 is at its optimum to learn foreign sounds, improving the chances for native-like pronunciation and a high level of proficiency later on.
“The Spanish program at Jacksonville Country Day School makes speaking, writing, and reading fun through playing games and other projects. Being exposed to a new language at the age of three has really helped me do well while continuing to take Spanish in middle school," Dylan Schwartz, a JCDS class of 2018 alum and current Bolles student, said.

In today’s global society, where interacting with people from different countries and cultures is common, it makes sense to prepare students to do so more effectively by teaching a world language as early as possible. 
Spanish has been an integral part of the JCDS curriculum for more than 20 years. Recognizing the importance and impact of early world language learning, all grade levels at JCDS receive instruction weekly. According to Iliana Leonard, who has been a Spanish Specialist at JCDS for more than 16 years, this scheduling and time commitment are what set JCDS apart from other private schools in the area. 
Iliana Leonard, known as Senora Leonard by the students, describes the JCDS program as a hybrid approach. We teach using mostly oral/aural strategies in the early grades, with some written work introduced in 1st grade. In the 2nd through 6th grades, lessons are a mix of oral and written. More structured instruction begins in the 4th grade when Spanish becomes geared more to preparing students for success in middle school foreign languages. 

“Teachers from the schools to which our students move on to after graduation have said that JCDS students who transition to middle school are their best language students by far,” Senora Leonard said. “Even if they move to French or another romance language, they do better and have a leg up because of what they learned here.”

There are many transformative learning experiences that broaden as well as refine language learning at JCDS. One of the most popular of these is the Hispanic Wax Museum. Sixth graders choose a famous Hispanic person, spend two months researching her or him, create a large-scale trifold poster that highlights and describes the life of that person, write and memorize a speech, and transform themselves to become that person for a day. 
With their parents and peers in attendance, students dress up to portray their special person, pose like a statue with a button to push to have them come to life and talk about themselves in Spanish in the first person, with their tri-fold as an illustrative backdrop. “The students really get into this special project and do a terrific job,” Senora Leonard said.

Integrated with global studies, immersive lessons focus on the country that a particular grade is exploring. Children discover the unique cultural aspects and geographic specifics of their country of interest. Monthly themes like farm or zoo animals, articles of clothing, different foods or places in the school, are used throughout the year for each grade level to build vocabulary, conjugations, tenses, and work on grammar. However, in Senora Leonard’s class, there is also an emphasis on exploration and fun

Technology-based assignments also play a critical role in language learning at JCDS. The iPad is an important tool that is used extensively. For example, with the wax museum, students record and practice their speech and send it electronically through a website app called Showbie. Senora Leonard can open it up in that folder, listen to it, and give feedback in real-time. Students also use Showbie in other creative ways like producing cooking shows that highlight country-specific recipes and traditional dishes.

In addition to fluency, brain benefits, and academic advantages of making second-language learning a priority in the early years, learning a different language also instills: 
  • Greater openness to and insights into other cultures and customs
  • Broadens worldwide awareness
  • Prepares students to become more globally competent
Recent studies have also shown that the effort and attention using two languages triggers more activity in the brain, especially in the prefrontal cortex which controls executive functions such as problem-solving, changing tasks, and focusing. 

And while JCDS’s commitment to second-language learning is long-standing, it’s the innovation, energy, and dedication of its Spanish program that make the learning experience “muy especial!”

World language study has wide-ranging developmental benefits such as: 
  • Improving cognitive skills like creativity and problem solving
  • Positively influencing achievement in other disciplines such as English, reading comprehension, math, and science by fostering flexibility in thinking
  • Promoting higher standardized test scoring 
Spanish is the most commonly taught second language in private schools and is an optimal second language for North Americans students to learn. Spanish is the second most-spoken language in the world, with 559 million speakers, and the second most-spoken language in the U.S., with more than 38 million speakers. Looking ahead to studying abroad or future travels, Spanish will come in handy in the 21 countries where it is the official language. English and Spanish share roots in Latin so learning the latter can benefit the former in both understanding and vocabulary.

Article courtesy of John Schwartz, Ph.D., Freelance Writer & Special Contributor (Grandparent ’24 &’24) 
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Located In Jacksonville, FL, Jacksonville Country Day School is a private school for Pre-K 3 through 6th grade. JCDS prepares students for a healthy and productive lifetime of intellectual exploration, character development, and social responsibility.