CARLSBAD — Como se dice, or how do you say, what is the best age to learn a second language?
Laura Rosso-Knight thinks it’s from birth to age 6. She is testing this theory with a Spanish for Preschoolers class she teaches at the Stagecoach Community Center in La Costa.
The teacher spends one hour a week working with 3- to 5-year-olds and their parents on how to describe their family members, themselves, numbers, letters and verbs in Spanish.
Rhonda Mak, 4, speaks English and Cantonese at home. One day, she asked her mother if she could also learn Spanish.
“She was watching something on TV in Spanish and she asked me, ‘Mom, I want to take Spanish class,'” Phoebe Mak said. “I don’t know Spanish, so this class is a good idea for us.”
Rhonda studies between classes with her mother. The teacher sends home a vocabulary list complete with words that she will orally “quiz” the children on the next week.
Now, only three weeks into Rosso-Knight’s class, Rhonda can describe her mother, father and baby brother, Wayne: madre, padre, hermano.
It’s baby Spanish for these children who can’t even write a whole sentence in English yet, the teacher said, but it’s also baby steps for the children to get a foundation for a new language.
“One hour a week is not a lot of time, but I try to get to as much of my lesson plan as possible,” Rosso-Knight said.
The stay-at-home mother decided to start the class because she has three young children, two of them under 5. She noticed how quickly they grasp the concepts of language.
Rosso-Knight is credentialed by the state to teach kindergarten through eighth grades and she has worked as a school psychologist. She has also taught bilingual education classes. But this is the first time she has attempted to teach preschoolers.
“I was a little worried at first, but they are doing very well,” the teacher said.
“Look at me with your eyes,” Rosso-Knight said to the children in the class. “Cal, touch the picture of your madre.”
When he does as he is told, understanding new words in English and Spanish, the teacher rewards him with a “Muy bien, Cal!”
Even if a child isn’t mastering that day’s lesson, she or he still is told that they are doing a good job or “muy bien” by their teacher.
For many of the children, it is the first time they have ever been in an academic setting. Rosso-Knight allows the children to sit on floor mats in front of their mothers instead of in desks.
“I don’t want to rush the children or they won’t want to learn,” Rosso-Knight said. “Children at this age are so much more daring to try new words, however.”
Through games and music, the children don’t even realize they are learning, she said.
Rosso-Knight said she wasn’t rushed or even encouraged to learn fluent Spanish as a child. Her father is from Puerto Rico and her mother is Chicana. But they decided to Americanize their daughter by not teaching her Spanish.
“I had to learn it in school with the non-native speakers,” Rosso-Knight said. “It was more difficult for me, being older.”
Children are like little sponges when it comes to learning new concepts, and language is no different, Rosso-Knight said.
“I want to keep reviewing and building, reviewing and building so children can enter the class at any level. I hope they can know eight to 10 new words each week,” she said.
The Spanish for Preschoolers class is offered from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. Thursdays. The class costs $40. The next session begins Feb. 28. The center is at 3420 Camino de los Coches.
For more information about the class, call (760) 602-7522.
Do you have an idea for a class story? Contact Victoria Carlborg at (760) 476-8214 or [email protected]