We all know that children absorb a lot of what we do and say. It is a boon when it comes to acquiring language because kids learn even when we are not teaching. Children also absorb attitudes that can aid or limit their learning. It is important that we convey attitudes that help them learn and grow into thoughtful, empathetic people.
Language, culture and identity are complicated. I see parents and teachers unintentionally communicate attitudes that limit Spanish learners over time. Whether you are a teacher or parent, a native speaker or a beginner yourself, it is important to set the example of being open-minded, respectful and encouraging. Model these attitudes and help your child make the most of the opportunity to learn Spanish.
1. Accept and appreciate linguistic variation. Children who understand that no country has “better” Spanish and develop an open-minded attitude, have an advantage as they hear different accents and vocabularies. Pretension and the belief there is a “best Spanish” only limits them.
2. Show a respect and appreciation for language conventions. Spanish is a living, changing language, but grammar rules and conventions are valuable. Not every situation requires a knowledge of if the rules, but many do. Communicate that you believe a mastery of register, grammar, spelling and punctuation is important. Model correct usage as much as possible.
3. Show a respect for different cultures, including the culture of the United States. Try to avoid stereotypes. Express your admiration, respect and enjoyment of specific aspects of other cultures to your child. Communicate that no culture is better than another, and that we all can learn from each other.
4. Model critical thinking about countries and culture. It is important to be positive and respectful, but it is just as important to acknowledge that we do not have to agree with all values or practices. The world is not black and white; encourage children to embrace the gray and add their own color with thoughtful opinions and values.
5. Model encouraging, supportive behavior for all language learners. Build an awareness that everyone has a different situation and that we should help each other. Nothing is to be gained by leading children to feel superior, and they have a lot to lose if they are not open to learning from others.
It is easy to forget that children are watching us all the time. By being open-minded and respectful, we set an example that helps children take full advantage of the chance to learn Spanish.