Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Los Pollitos y Elefantes

Pamela and I "graduated" from our first nursery song in Spanish, Los Pollitos Dicen. Our goal this year is to build an ear for Spanish without obsessing over grammar, spelling, reading, etc. We watched the video a couple of times and Pamela managed to figure out some vocabulary words on her own: gallina (hen), pollito (chick), hambre (hungry), frío (cold), and pío (peep):
Los pollitos dicen, pío, pío, pío,
cuando tienen hambre
cuando tienen frío.

La gallina busca,
el maíz y el trigo,
les dá la comida,
y les presta abrigo.

Bajo sus dos alas,
duermen los pollitos,
hasta el otro día. Repeat all verses.

Cuando se levantan,
dicen mamacita,
tengo mucha hambre,
dame lombricitas.

I made one HUGE blunder in learning this song! I let Pamela see the words. For some reason, she correctly annunciates gallina (a "y" sound for the double l) but says pollitos incorrectly (an "l" sound for the same double l). I will strive to be more cautious as we start our next song, Los Elefantes.

I shared a story with Pamela about her father and sisters, who aspired to see how many verses they could manage in this counting song in which the number of elephants increases by one with every verse. Conceivably, one could reach infinity, given enough lifespans. Pamela guessed and guessed and even dared to guess a hundred verses. She fell short of guessing their actual achievement: one thousand. It must have been a very long car trip, especially for his parents!

I spent this week assessing the first phase of our language experiment based on the ideas of Francios Gouin (The Art of Teaching and Studying Languages). Charlotte Mason recommended his book, which she called "the most important attempt that has yet been made to bring the study of languages within the sphere of practical education" and went on to write, "Indeed, the great reform in our methods of teaching modern languages owe their origin to this remarkable work" (page 302 of Volume 1).

Gouin spends a good chunk of his book outlining all the false starts he had in acquiring German (which dovetail well with my lackluster efforts at learning Spanish and German). He tried focusing on grammar and irregular verbs, studying roots, listening to haphazard conversations, reading and translating, reading the dictionary, and buying the latest foreign language textbooks--all to no avail. Then, a great revelation hit him: why not try to learn a second language in the same way he learned the first? In light of how Steve taught himself to read and write English, I found the theory appealing.

Most children learn their first language through the ear. I say most because Pamela used the ear, eye, and hand to absorb the grammar and syntax of English due to her aphasia. At the beginning of the schoolyear, I was not completely sold on learning to speak and understand Spanish through the ear only, which is what Gouin recommends in the first phase of any language study, "Address the ear, then, first of all and principally. Afterwards take as auxiliaries the eye and the hand in reading and in writing. The ear is the prime minister of the intelligence" page 139. While Pamela's auditory channel has improved by leaps and bounds thanks to the extensive reading aloud that I did, could she learn new Spanish words this way?

I did hedge a bit about the ear only by using this free resource that combines the ear and eye because I am not a native speaker and at least the words sound proper. We did some review (colors, weeks, months, numbers) and some new words (feelings, pets, and fruits). Plus, I let Pamela see the lyrics of the nursery song (which I vow to avoid in the next song). Yesterday, I assessed Pamela's ear for Spanish reading stories about our pets and simple sentences to see how she would respond to an ear-focused method. She loved it!

The final two videos show this non-native speaker completely butchering the Spanish language. However, off camera, we did an experiment today. We have three fish in our fish tank. Steve described the red-bellied pecos in our fish tank very slowly in Spanish in short, full sentences, and Pamela pointed to the correct fish. He described the goldfish and, again, she nailed it. Steve was very impressed at her ear for understanding.

Phase II of experimenting with Gouin's ideas is rolling around in my brain right now, and I will share it with you if we make any headway.


poohder said...

Tammy, upon your recommendation I have been having my dd listen to the ONLINE FREE SPANISH website daily. I have just been letting her listen to what ever she wants each day. I'm thinking that maybe I should have a PLAN. DO you have a plan with Pamela, such as listen to the names of fruits one week and the names of animals for another or how are you doing it?

Phyllis said...

I did this with my PDD-NOS daughter with wonderful results. We graduated from listening to Spanish, and went on to grammar. At that time we added Greek, and then a couple years later Latin. We only did small bites of each -about 10 or 15 minutes. It was wonderful for her language skills all around. (She still adores Greek especially.)I highly recommend it. I am now doing the Spanish songs with my 3 boys ages 5-12. I would do this with my autistic 15 year old, but music and song is very painful for him, so I can't do it with him. I was tempted to bipass the songs phase with my 12 year old and go directly to grammar, but I resisted the temptation. Why rush it?...there is plenty of time to catch grammar once the auditory piece is more firmly in place. Thanks so much for this wonderful essay and encouragement on this! Keep up the wonderful work!

walking said...


My plan is to start working on oral stories that follow a predictable pattern like what her dad does in the morning or something we are studying in nature or science or something related to daily life. I want to do a story or two a week and then move to another one when Pamela seems to understand. Today, to work on pets, I grabbed some of her Beanie babies and described them. She was able to pick the right ones. I said a sentence with both fruit and color and she got all but one.

walking said...


What are you using for listening activities for your children? I am blessed to have a native speaker here at home, but I'd love to know any resources you are finding helpful.

poohder said...

Tammy, I was going to ask you the same question about WHAT listening activities are you able to find.
That are simple that is. I found the Dr. Seuss books in Spanish at the library, but i need some more ideas. I would prefer some simple ONLINE stories that I can print

walking said...

Poohder (snort almost typed your real name),

Here's one idea I plan to test drive next week: spend fifteen minutes a day watching one of Pamela's favorite DVDs in Spanish. By doing that, I have a steady supply at home of stories that she already knows!

poohder said...

Putting the DVD's on the Spanish Language setting. That is brilliant!
Now to find one that speaks slow enough or one that she already knows the script. LOL!

Phyllis said...

sorry so long in answering your question...I use the Spanish songs from the Easy Spanish website. It is a sepearate CD from the Easy Spanish program. It comes with the written words and coloring pages. I have used the coloring pages, but they were not that thrilled. I like the words for my own knowledge since I know very little Spanish myself. I really like the songs.