Monday, October 03, 2011

Teacher introduces Spanish to children at West End Library

Article by Ann Harmon in the October 2011 edition of Richmond Parents Monthly, page 12.
“Becoming bilingual has become a need,” said Elsa Eslava Smith, instructor of Spanish for children at the West End branch of the Richmond Public Library. Parents realize that their children should have a second language. “It is common to apply for a job and be asked, ‘In what language besides English can you communicate— write and speak?’” Smith said, adding that, in some cases, the employer-to-be asks directly if the applicant has fluency in Spanish.

As a 17-year-old, Peruvian-born Smith attended a Girl Scout conference in Cuernavaca, Mexico, and met American Donna Branch, who persuaded her to come to America to study. The two lived at Branch’s home, studied together at Illinois Valley Community College their freshman year, and became as close as sisters. At every mealtime, Smith had to name, in English, all the foods present before she could take one bite. The exercise made mealtimes fun, and it helped accomplish a more serious goal: Smith learned the new language quickly. From Illinois, the young Latina went to Lambuth College in Jackson, Tennessee, where her bilingual abilities equipped her for a wide choice of jobs after graduation. She soon began handling Central and South American marketing accounts for Maybelline and Coppertone products. After marriage, her husband’s work took the couple to Venezuela, where Smith directed a preschool for expatriates’ children — again putting her bilingual gifts to use. The achievement did not end there; the family, transferred to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, adjusted to the Portuguese in which they were immersed. Smith concentrated on learning that language, easily becoming tri-lingual in the three years of duty there. A final work-induced move brought the family to Richmond, where Smith’s two daughters grew up, and where she has established her language studies programs. Smith’s weekly courses at the West End Library began in late September and continue through October. Children may enter the free sessions at any time; each class is complete in itself. As with any training, the more sessions attended, the better the results.

Smith bases the lessons at the library on the curriculum she wrote in establishing her own company, Spanish4Kids. Her Triple Saturation segments have to do with persuasive language. She carries motivational techniques — many from her Spanish courses in sales training — over to the children’s program. The children have three-fold exposure: they will hear the sounds of the language; see the printed words, phrases, and sentences; and touch the products of their learning through painting and booklet-making. In the TIP strategy — Total Immersion Program — the children will participate in arts and crafts, songs, folklore, dances, food sampling, and explorations into the varied cultures of the 21 countries whose native language is Spanish. Smith will use bilingual books with the children so they can check their own comprehension as they move along. Smith has worked closely with Helene Jainchell, children’s librarian at the West End branch . Jainchell — Miss Gigi, to the children — said that children aged 2½ through pre-kindergarten attend the Tuesday morning sessions. Those in kindergarten and above attend the Wednesday afternoon class. Each class session focuses on a selected theme. Depending on participation in this first series, the library will plan future classes.

Jainchell hopes to make the public aware that mid-September through mid-October is Spanish Heritage Month. The library will observe it by promoting books, films, and programs focusing on Spanish language and culture. Citywide, librarians have arranged with Smith to visit all branches and conduct special story hours. Times and locations appear on the library’s website,

At West End, Jainchell said the library has many books both in Spanish and about Spanish-speaking countries, especially for children. A program called Mango Languages is available on the library’s website. It currently offers instruction and exercises in 12 languages.

Jainchell naturally assumes the role of a foreign language advocate. She is a graduate of the Sorbonne in Paris, and speaks fluent French. She and staff librarian Lee Church are learning Spanish, along with the many area residents who acknowledge its growing use and the value of having a second — or third — language. Click to read more and scroll down to page 12.

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