Southwestern students giving local children an early introduction to foreign languages
A group of elementary and middle school children in Jarrell are getting a head start on learning foreign languages this year thanks to help from a Southwestern University professor and students.
The children are participants in an after-school language program that is funded by Georgetown resident Ned Snead. Snead’s daughter Jeannie Snead manages the program with support from the Jarrell Independent School District.
The program is open to students in third through sixth grade and is held at Jarrell Elementary School. Students who are interested in the program must apply and be recommended by their classroom teacher. The program meets four afternoons a week, so students must be serious about it before committing to it. Up to 30 students can participate at a time.
All students who are accepted into the program learn two languages – Chinese and Spanish. Typically, two afternoons a week are devoted to one language and the other two are devoted to the other language. Each class session is divided between classroom work and time in a computer lab for additional computer-based instruction. In addition to language training, each classroom session includes a short segment on culture. In a recent class, for example, the students learned about the Chinese New Year celebration.
The program has been offered since 2006, but this is the first year Southwestern has been involved with it. Jeannie Snead approached Carl Robertson, head of Southwestern’s Chinese Program, about getting involved with the program to help formalize the curriculum. Robertson recommended Patricia Schiaffini, a professor of Chinese who also speaks Spanish, to help with the program. Schiaffini meets with student teachers once or twice a week for training in how to prepare lessons and teach foreign languages. She also reviews all their lesson plans in advance. Faculty members from the Education Department have given the Southwestern students lessons on how to manage children in a classroom.
This semester, three Southwestern students are involved with the program − junior Le’Loni Brown and first-year student Lawrence Li are teaching Chinese and senior Daisy Mateus is teaching Spanish.
“The Southwestern students are doing a fantastic job,” Snead said.
Brown said she is really enjoying participating in the program. “The kids are great and are eager to learn,” she said. “It is a joy to be able to do it.”
While most of the Southwestern students who have been involved with the program are not interested in pursuing teaching as a career, Schiaffini said it does offer them a good way to keep up their language skills. Brown, a junior communication studies major who is minoring in Chinese, just returned to Southwestern after studying in Shanghai. Li grew up in a Chinese-speaking family and studied the language for four years in high school.
Schiaffini said she is unaware of any other after-school program for children in this age group that is as intense. “Most after-school language programs are only one day a week,” she said.
All of Schiaffini’s children are trilingual because they started learning languages at an early age, so she believes there is a definite value to the program. “You are missing a critical time of learning when you don’t start at a young age,” she said.
Schiaffini said she hopes the program will encourage the elementary and middle school students to take foreign languages when they get to high school.
“Many students might not even think of taking Chinese in high school,” she said.