On a cold winter’s morning last week, when most Davis children were just rolling out of bed or sitting down to breakfast, more than a dozen kids arrived at the Davis Art Center for a little before-school foreign language immersion.
Through the use of songs, games, artwork and stories, the children — all in grades 1-6 — spent a half-hour practicing their Spanish or French before heading off to start their regular school days.
The beginning Spanish class, taught by Marlene Robles, played a lively game of “hot potato” with a stuffed bear filling in for the spud. Whoever was left holding the bear when the song stopped had to answer a simple question — What’s your favorite animal? What’s your favorite number? — in Spanish.
Later they would end class with the popular classroom game “Four Corners,” though again, all counting would be done in Spanish.
Across the hall, slightly older children in the intermediate Spanish class taught by Lucia Diaz were constructing a paper house for the unit “Construyamos una casa,” or “Building a house.” As they designed their house, the students were using words like “ventanas” and “puertas” rather than “windows” and “doors.”
Diaz said her class has a range of fluency, from one bilingual student whose mother is from Brazil, to other students who are still relatively new to the language, “so I have to switch from Spanish to English and back again.”
Whether it’s children getting a little practice in their parents’ native tongues or students completely new to a second language, the Teach Another Language to Kids program has been doing just that for 20 years now.
A parent-created and still parent-run program, TALK employs UC Davis students to teach Spanish and French to children before school at the Davis Art Center as well as at Birch Lane and Korematsu elementary schools.
Over the years, the program has been at Pioneer, Montgomery, Valley Oak, Patwin and Willett elementary schools, based entirely on demand from parents and students, and has varied in size from a few dozen students to nearly 180 to the current enrollment of just over 50.
Featuring class sizes of six to 12 students, the program is focused primarily on conversational language acquisition, leaving the grammatical work to come later in junior high.
Over the years, many parents have reported their children having an easy transition to junior high world language classes because of their time in the TALK program and expressed pleasure as well at their children’s accents, something that reportedly is easier to develop when a language is heard and spoken at a younger age.
Nicole Rabaud, president of the TALK board of directors, has a daughter in the French class at the Art Center. A native French speaker herself — with family in France — Rabaud wanted her daughter to have an opportunity to practice the language with peers and has found that being in class every morning has made her daughter more eager to speak French at home.
“It’s almost like our language support group,” she laughed.
Fellow board member Laura Scott said she appreciates that the children end up with such a positive attitude about learning a new language because class is such fun.
Their enthusiastic young teachers are a big part of that.
The program seeks native speakers as instructors for the classes — something easier to find for Spanish than French. Currently of the program’s four French instructors, two are native speakers. But all five Spanish instructors are native speakers. Most are graduate students at UC Davis.
Though the second semester of TALK officially began last week, students are welcome to join at any time and tuition is prorated. To learn more or to register, contact the Davis Art Center at 530-756-4100 or www. davisartcenter.org.
— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at email@example.com or 530-747-8051. Follow her Twitter at @ATernusBellamy.