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The Natural Approach in Preschool and Elementary Spanish

The Natural Approach (NA), the second ESL methodology we adopted and modified for our Sonrisas Spanish School curricula, was developed by a pair of applied linguists, Dr. Stephen Krashen and Spanish teacher Tracy Terrell. NA is based on the premise that the study of foreign language can be taught and learned in two distinct ways: through acquisition or through learning. Acquisition requires a focus on meaning; learning, on the other hand, requires a focus on form, i.e., on grammar. According to NA, children learn language only through acquisition.

Dr. Krashen regards communication as a function of language; that is, communication takes place only when messages are comprehended. Further, Krashen believes, comprehension of language precedes its production: Speaking will emerge naturally and inevitably after a silent period of active listening. A comprehension-based approach, NA focuses on “comprehensible input.” When students are exposed to this input in low-anxiety contexts, acquisition is inevitable. In order to control anxiety levels in the learner, one does not demand a premature production of language, and one does not correct any errors in speech except when they compromise meaning. In the NA classroom, the teacher’s role is to allow students multiple opportunities to understand language through the use of multiple strategies. These include visual aids, actions, gestures, photographs, and illustrations—all of which are well-suited for preschool and elementary Spanish lessons.

NA and TPR are obvious complements to each other in the foreign language classroom; in fact, TPR is one of the strategies used in an NA classroom. Both methodologies are predicated on the belief that learners can acquire a second language most effectively using methods similar to the way they acquired their first language.

At Sonrisas Spanish School, we help students acquire language by providing comprehensible input in Spanish using gestures, illustration, everyday objects, and artwork. We avoid translation, and we teach grammar only in the context of oral communication—never through isolated academic exercises. We don’t give tests and we don’t ask an individual student to perform unless he or she wants to. We believe that students thrive in our preschool and elementary classes because the environment is fun and free of anxiety—students don’t feel any pressure to speak Spanish before they are ready.

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