Spanish immersion promotes cultural understanding and development


Photo submitted by Stephen Gorde

Lake Elmo elementary kindergarten students enrolled in the Amigos Unidos program work on a project. Students spend the majority of the school day learning in Spanish rather than English.

Elsa Persson, Online Editor

The school district offers numerous opportunities for elementary students to learn beyond basic curriculum. A unique program offered for early learning is Spanish immersion. Not only does learning a second language in elementary school give kids learning skills to carry throughout their lives, but it gives them a connection to heritage and a better understanding of culture.

The Spanish immersion program at Lake Elmo Elementary school is called Amigos Unidos, which translates in English to “Friends United.” Since the 2017-2018 school year, students in kindergarten through second grade have been eligible to be enrolled in the Spanish immersion program, whether a student’s first language is English or Spanish.

The program started in the 2017-2018 school year with the Kindergarten class. Currently, kindergarten, first grade and second grade students have the opportunity to have an education immersed in Spanish. The district plans on adding another grade level through fifth grade each subsequent year of the project, followed by a potential middle school program and opportunities in high school.

The plan with the Spanish immersion program is to start students in Kindergarten learning in Spanish for 90 percent of the school day and continually reduce the percentage of daily Spanish speaking with each grade level in order to help students be comfortable with reading in Spanish, Stephen Gorde, Lake Elmo Elementary principal said.

Language learning is proven to be easier as a child. Since their brains are developing, children retain new information unconsciously at a faster rate than adults. Children also have less responsibilities and other information required of them to know, which are reasons thought to explain the ease of learning a new language at a young age.

“Studies have proven that younger minds soak in language better, mainly because it gets less complicated as you learn more of your native language, it gets harder to learn a new language, so starting it young kind of gets rid of that translating issue that ends up happening when you get older,” sophomore Elsa Martin said.

Opportunities for students to learn Spanish have been abundant in the district for years, beyond Amigos Unidos at Lake Elmo Elementary. In the 2010-2011 school year, Marine Elementary school had an opportunity for third grade students to learn about language and culture through a Spanish day camp.

At the Spanish immersion day camp, the education was based primarily on Hispanic culture in addition to the language, which included activities like listening to music and cooking, junior Louis Oesterreich explained.

It’s not just language instruction, it also includes covering the rich culture of various Spanish-speaking countries and locations in the world and making sure that our students are not only fluent in language, but also have a strong understanding of culture.”

— Stephen Gorde

Learning a second language is immensely valuable. It helps the learner maintain a better understanding of culture and differences between languages. Cultural education is a key component of the Amigos Unidos curriculum.

“There’s a cultural component to this as well,” Gorde added, “It’s not just language instruction, it also includes covering the rich culture of various Spanish-speaking countries and locations in the world and making sure that our students are not only fluent in language, but also have a strong understanding of culture.”

The teaching of culture is an important value to the Amigos Unidos program. In an increasingly diverse society, Spanish immersion gives students a new understanding of lifestyle that can be applied to their general worldviews. If different cultures are properly talked about, people will be more likely to approach them with an open mind.

Learning a second language “promotes multiculturalism, which decreases bigotry,” Oesterreich said.

Having the ability to speak two different languages is an important skill to have throughout student and professional life. Language education plays a significant role in junior high and high school, as well as college admission and in professional industries.

“Being able to speak a second allows you to be more successful in a 21st century world,” Gorde said.

Since Spanish is the second most spoken language in the country, Spanish immersion is the perfect opportunity for students coming from Spanish speaking families. It allows them to better communicate with family members and connect with their heritage.

“My mom is Puerto Rican… and, like, no one in her family, except for her sisters, my abuelita, and a little bit of my abuelito can speak English really, so it’s kind of difficult in that aspect. She really wanted us to be able to learn how to speak Spanish,” senior Mia Pariseau said.

Spanish immersion programs can benefit all kinds of families. Students with Spanish-speaking families can learn in the language they know best, and students from families that don’t speak Spanish can further their cognitive development through language learning.

“I definitely think it gives you kind of a broad diversity… some people have no connection to being Hispanic, or have no Hispanic family, they just want their kids to learn another language, and I think that’s so cool. Some [kids’] parents only speak Spanish, so they’re in Spanish immersion because that’s the only language they know,” Pariseau said. “I think it’s definitely a dope resource that should be way more readily available.”

“Having that depth of cultural understanding of somewhere besides your own and being able to speak a second language will open a lot of doors for you,” Gorde said.