Spanish teacher Maria Kearney has seen firsthand the benefits of being bilingual.
Born and raised in Mexico, Kearney has made a career out of her fluency in Spanish and English, working as a medical interpreter and teaching Spanish “on and off for 24 years.” She's raised bilingual children and believes if you're going to learn another language, the best way is to learn young. The younger, the better.
“I don’t know what it is about little ones understanding you,” she said. “When they’re little, you just teach them. You just talk to them. If I move my hands, as soon as they see it, they just do it. They’re like sponges, it’s amazing.”
Kearney will teach the youngest of pupils when she begins work at Emmanuel Day School this fall, leading the school’s afternoon Spanish immersion program. A program unique to the Island, it will be taught entirely in Spanish to preschool-age students.
Kathy Bauman, director of Emmanuel Day School, said by offering its Spanish immersion program, the school is hoping to help its students capitalize on the benefits of learning another language early on in their cognitive development.
“There are compelling studies and research about exposure to language at that age and how, at a time when [children’s minds] are like sponges, that opportunity to have that type of language exposure is very enriching for them,” said Bauman.
“It’s kind of a step out for us to do this, but we think it’s a compelling one.”
Bauman said the class will operate like a true immersion class, beginning with basics like words, shapes and objects and will gradually progress throughout the year into more abstract ideas. She believes the interest is there for the program, with a few families of current EDS students already signing their kids up for the immersion class.
But once in the classroom, Kearney said there are no difficulties to teaching another language to preschool students.
“People ask me, ‘How did you teach your kids?’ I just talked to them, it’s as simple as that,” she said. “I find it fascinating; it’s like their brain is so movable at that age, you can talk to them in another language and they don’t even realize if it makes sense. They start understanding. They understand better than they speak it at first, but as they get older, they get better at speaking and writing it.”
Kearney said she always thought all preschools should offer immersion for Spanish or any language because, aside from the cultural doors opened and the career opportunities a fluency in multiple languages offered, people get to an age where total immersion isn’t as effective. And as Kearney will attest, a fluency in multiple languages has no shortage of benefits.
“Being bilingual opens up a whole new world,” she said. “It’s the best gift [parents] can give their kids. It opens up a lot of possibilities and opportunities and at that age, why not do it? It is a priceless gift you can't get later.”
EDS is currently accepting applications for its afternoon Spanish immersion programs. To learn more about the school and its program offerings, visit www.emmanueldayschool.org.