Language Learning Through Lore: Using Stories to Make Spanish Curriculum Relevant

spanish curriculumThe academic process of learning a foreign language is difficult when it’s not approached in meaningful ways. Unfortunately, young students aren’t going to find much meaning in rigorous grammar lessons and vocabulary tests. Even learning the intricacies of a first language can be taxing when the academic application is overly rigid.

Language is fluid and always in flux, regardless of whether it’s a first, second, or fifth language. Learning it while disregarding the influence of linguistic evolution stands fundamentally against the fact that language is, indeed, living. To be clear, we’re talking about stories. Any types of stories. There’s something present in all of us that craves human narrative, especially, say, in children beginning Spanish curriculum. They don’t want spelling tests, they want tales of tradition, folklore, movies, myths, heroes, heroines, and history.

Spanish curriculum for elementary school often incorporates Spanish storybook sets targeted at certain learning levels. These are an excellent resource because young learners are more likely to be invested in learning through reading, listening to, and otherwise interacting with unfamiliar stories. This should be a base from which you dive into your own study of the language and culture. Bring stories in that are unfamiliar to you, the teacher, and make them accessible to your students. When they see you lead them somewhere you care about, they will follow.

The recently released film Coco is an excellent example of bringing a story, culture, and language to life in a way that children are already likely to grasp onto. A part of your Spanish curriculum that looks at this incredibly fun, excellent animated film and its representation of the Mexican holiday Dia de los Muertos through the eyes of a young Mexican boy would be a phenomenal supplement. This works because language and literacy aren’t limited to pages and academic drill-and-fill fact sheets, they surround us.

It’s important to use the time during a child’s early development when language acquisition comes naturally. Prior to the age of six, children have an advanced capability to absorb, pronounce, and synthesize foreign sounds and unfamiliar linguistic rules. Putting those things in their learning paths early is going above and beyond the normal scope of curricular decision making.

But we’re educators and sticking to the academic status quo is not what we’re here to do. If it scares you, go learn it, then teach it, but make it meaningful. Language permeates borders, people, and time, that’s why we absorb it everywhere. Spanish culture is so rich with stories and practices that not using them to teach both language and cultural relativity to young learners would be the most flagrant foul in curriculum development and implementation.

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