Lower Schoolers Learn World Language
Brookwood is proud to have an outstanding World Language program one that, according to reports from alumni/ae and past parents, routinely places graduates into Level II or Level II advanced classes in secondary school. Many eventually go on to excel in AP classes during their junior or senior years.
The learning that produces these notable results starts early at our school with a Lower School World Language curriculum that is thoughtfully developed, carefully sequenced, and most importantly age-appropriate.
“Our Lower School, as well as our Middle School, program is an introduction and exposure to languages and cultures. Studies have shown that the earlier we expose our children to language the better,” says Carrie Woodruff, World Languages Coordinator and Spanish teacher. “Although our program is certainly not immersion and our Lower School students will not be fluent, we believe that they are gaining valuable aural and oral skills. We find that their pronunciation is often better than those students beginning in the later years.”
She adds, “Although our youngest students are not always able to recall words on their own or respond in the target language, it is always amazing to me how they can recognize or respond to routine commands given in the target language without even realizing it.”
Every teacher in Brookwood’s World Language department teaches Lower School classes – Joshua Cabral, Grades K-3 French; Carrie Woodruff, Grades K-3 Spanish; Katya Hottenstein, Grades K, 2 and 3 Spanish; Annabel Wildrick, K French; Elizabeth Hammett, Grades K-3 Mandarin. This allows students to build relationships with all the instructors, which in turn eases the children’s transitions when they begin the study of a single language.
Introduction to World Language begins in Kindergarten when the students are exposed to many languages from around the world. Faculty and staff who know a language other than English or who have lived abroad visit the classroom and share their knowledge of language and culture with the children. During the year, students are exposed to languages ranging from Spanish to Hebrew, from Aymara (an indigenous language of Peru and Bolivia) to French, from Farsi to Mandarin.
Carrie explains, “The lessons vary and can either be common vocabulary words and phrases shared through an activity or game, the sharing of a story or pictures from travels or living abroad, or learning a song. In addition to introducing them to the idea of different languages and cultures and making connections to them, it is also a great way for Kindergartners to connect with faculty and staff who participate in the program. This year we have 20 faculty and staff who are participating, including one alum.”
In Grades 1 and 2 the instruction shifts and students are introduced to the three languages Brookwood offers (French, Spanish, and Mandarin), which allows them to experience each one. This helps a student and his or her parents more easily make a decision about which language the student will study for the remainder of his or her time at Brookwood. They rotate through the three languages for approximately 11 weeks in each language.
“During those 11 weeks students engage in songs that help them to learn the vocabulary (greetings, numbers, colors, fruits, animals, family, etc.) and activities that will help them develop listening and speaking skills. Throughout it all, we try to integrate cultural components so that students begin to have a better understanding of the cultures where these languages are spoken,” Carrie explains.
As of next year, third grade will be the year when a child and his or her family choose the language that he or she will study for the remainder of their time at Brookwood. Carrie points out, “Beginning at this stage allows parents and their children to make an educated decision based on their child's experience as well as family preferences. We also feel that this is the perfect culmination of their Lower School World Language study before moving into the Middle School.”
In the classroom, third graders build upon previous vocabulary and common phrases but also begin to focus on writing – spelling in Spanish and French and character formation in Mandarin – and word order, which is often different than the word order of English.
World Language quickly becomes a favorite with Lower School students, and parents may ask why the classes aren’t held more frequently during the week. Carrie points out that having more class time does not equate to fluency unless the children were in a complete immersion setting (i.e. other classes were taught in the target language as well), and adds, “Brookwood is mindful of the fact that these are still young children. They have academic needs but also need to be kids and not have a schedule like our older students. Having more time in World Language would mean less time for something else that is equally as valuable.”
Ultimately the Lower School program prepares students well as they move into Middle School and eventually Upper School. Says Carrie, “Students continue to build upon the vocabulary they have learned in Lower School and utilize it more extensively in Middle School through conversations, reading, and writing. In addition, vocabulary is reinforced by more difficult concepts appropriate during Middle and Upper School study.”