Educational research continues to point out that the best method for learning a second language is in early childhood, through immersion – the same way children learn their mother tongue. Living North America puts parents who seek to give their children a bilingual advantage in a difficult position. The vast majority of us are monolingual, speaking only English, the international language of trade and commerce.
So, what’s a mom to do who wants to equip her young children with a solid foundation in a second language when she only speaks one? The lack of high quality resource for Spanish immersion was just the catalyst needed for one mom to launch Whistlefritz and the Spanish for Beginners series in 2006.
The latest release in the series – Adentro y Afuera (Inside and Out) is designed to appeal to children from ages two through seven – and does it ever. Who would have thought that a 30-minute DVD, entirely in Spanish, would so captivate the hearts and attention of my one, three, and six-year-old?
I was a bit skeptical as I popped in the disc. My children are largely unfamiliar with Spanish. They’ve seen Dora, watched some educational DVDs that teach common phrases through English to Spanish translation and repetition, but have no formal language education under their belts. I was so surprised to find my children singing, dancing, and laughing throughout an entirely Spanish presentation of what could pass for cable television children’s programming.
The animated host “Maria” leads children through scenarios revolving around a small, animated mouse named Fritzi who whistles to communicate (hence the company name, Whistlefritz.) Similar in style to the popular television series Blues Clues, Maria and her gang of multi-cultural children in the target age ranges interact against a colourful, cartoon backdrop with the animated mouse, and a variety of entertaining hand puppets. Live action segments are also interspersed throughout the DVD, showing the children interacting and singing in real settings.
Maria communicates the meaning of the Spanish words she uses through repetition, exaggerated facial expressions, props, hand gestures, and body movements. Her level of enthusiasm is contagious, and she is an excellent teacher. Narrative teaching is broken up with songs from Horge Anya which include activity songs where children are prompted to perform certain hand movements in response to the lyrics, songs about food, songs about the directions (up and down) and so on.
The narrative teaching focuses on greetings, room names, common locations (in front of, on the side of, on top of, etc.), food names, numbers up to ten, bathroom tasks, and more. A vocabulary guide which includes the Spanish words in the order they are presented on the disc, and their English translations is provided to help children decipher the meaning of words which are more difficult to determine from context. Parents who watch the DVD with their children and discuss the onscreen action and vocabulary with them will greatly enhance the effectiveness of the DVD, and pick up valuable Spanish skills themselves.
With Maria and Horge both speaking Spanish fluently, their accents are bang on to my untrained ear. They speak at a slower pace than a native speaker would in order to allow children to follow them, and often repeat words and phrases to encourage children to join in with responses. My two oldest girls were already chattering away from time to time with the disc on it’s second play through.
The DVD menu provides options to play the disc through, put the disc on auto play, or play only the song segments. No scene selection option is provided, though with a 30-minute disc that isn’t a hardship.
I’ve been teaching my six-year-old the five-star rating system; when I asked her how she’d rate Spanish for Beginners: Adentro y Afuera (Inside and Out) she replied, “Six stars, I’d give it eight if I could.” The natural humour, infectious joy, and enthusiasm contained on the DVD have already made it a much-requested favourite in our home. My six-year-old has asked for it four times today (I had to stop her or she would have kept going.) It’s just this sort of repetition in an immersive language experience that will help build a solid foundation for future studies in Spanish.
Whether you want to give your children a taste of Spanish for National Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15-Oct 15, 2009), supplement a more traditional language program, or use the Spanish for Beginners series as the first step in a full-immersion course of study, Adentro y Afuera (Inside and Out) is well worth your investment in time and money.
Video clips of every Spanish for Beginners DVD can be found at Whistlefritz.com.