melissa finifrock's Learning Story


I began a job as an ESL teacher of kindergarten through 6th graders in 1998.I had taken Spanish in college twenty years earlier, and suddenly I had to retrieve it to talk to parents and students who were from Mexico. By talking to the students daily, I gained everyday fluency in Spanish. My students came from Cuba, Guatemala and Mexico. I noticed one 5th grade girl and her 4th grade brother had a strange accent in Spanish, they said they spoke Huacateco, an Aztec Indian language and Spanish was their second language…they only spoke it when they went to town shopping. it was a fascinating dialect , full of strange voiced sounds and I wish I ‘d written down what they taught me. Within a few months, i began to dream in Spanish, because I listened to it all day at school. Later that year, I had a student arrive from Albania. She already knew 4 languages. It took her about two months and she had learned enough English to cope with day to day events, and enough Spanish to tell the talkers to “Callete”. in Spanish! Next I had a 6 year old arrive from Arabia. From Him I had to learn basic Arabic and the importance of Total Physical response, Always have a concrete example or picture of what you are t alking about and allow students to respond physically to show understanding. I learned that all students can learn a new language orally in 6 months with daily practice in survival language and that there is a silent period in which the learner initially just listens and can only respond with a signal indicating understanding. It was a fascinating 5 years in which I learned parts of 5 different languages and gained a deep understanding in how learning a language is an emotional issue as well as an academic one. As a student gains greater capabilities in their 1st language, those gains somehow transfer to the new language. There’s no need to cut off learning in the 1st language. There is plenty of room in the brain to aquire a new language AT THE SAME time that a new one is learned. melissa finfrock