Spanish For Native Speakers College Classes Increase

Latinos raised in Spanish-speaking homes but not formally schooled in Spanish are often caught in a bind when they want to strengthen their language schools in college.

Spanish classes for non-native speakers may not be the best fit, so programs that address the needs of “heritage” speakers are increasingly popping up. As the Latino student population ages, Spanish for Spanish speakers classes could grow in popularity throughout the country.

The Associated Press reports on the trend, noting that it is still developing. Such students may have strong conversation skills, but experience challenges with reading and writing in Spanish, for example.

Harvard and the University of Miami are two examples of institutions that have special classes for such “heritage” speakers.

The AP article describes one student, Dorothy Villarreal, who realized the gaps in her Spanish when she studied abroad in Mexico.

“We were talking about the presidential election, and there was so much I wanted to explain,” Villarreal told the AP. “We’d end up playing a guessing game where I’d speak in English, and my friends, they’d speak back in Spanish to guess what I was saying.”

She is now enrolled in the Harvard heritage language class.

Additionally, the National Heritage Language Resource Center at the University of California, Los Angeles, tracks research on such programs and works on developing effective ways to teach heritage learners. The U.S. Department of Education funds the center. The center could be a possible resource for reporters.

There already are signs of the future demand for such courses. Growing numbers of school districts are using AP Spanish and Language classes with native Spanish-speaking students beginning as early as middle school.

The number of Spanish speakers residing within the United States isn’t dropping any time soon. A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that Spanish is the most common language other than in English spoken in homes, even among people who are not Hispanic.

Pew said that according to 2011 American Community Survey Census figures, about 37.6 million people ages five and older speak Spanish in the home.

Related Links:

– “Heritage language programs on the rise,” Associated Press.

– National Heritage Language Resource Center at UCLA.
– “Speaking Spanish Declining Among Latinos in the U.S.” CNN.


– “Spanish is the Most Spoken non-English Language in U.S. Homes, Even Among non-Hispanics,” Pew Research Center.

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Schools Reach Parents With Spanish Radio Broadcasts

Several years ago, Denver Public Schools officials recognized the enormous popularity of Spanish-language radio among Hispanic parents and turned that knowledge into a successful new vehicle for community outreach.

Under the leadership of the then-director of multicultural outreach Alex Sanchez, the district launched the Educa Radio broadcast on local radio stations. The stations already had a built in loyal audience of Spanish-language music fans. Sanchez told The Denver Post that immigrant parents often listed to radio while at work, whether it be in a restaurant or  on a construction site.

“We are getting information to parents in a medium they are comfortable with,” he told the newspaper.

Educa Radio broadcasts have tackled thorny topics including high teen pregnancy rates among Latinas, bilingualism,  discipline,  bullying of gays and lesbian students and how to apply for federal financial aid. A weekly segment profiles schools doing particularly well with Hispanic students.

The radio programs also increased Hispanic parent involvement. The web site Take Part reports that after the radio station launched, the district saw an increase in parent calls to the district and attendance at school district-related events promoted on the radio.

The radio station broadcasts three hourly shows a week.  The initiative also has a web site with blog posts, podcasts and internet broadcasts. The show has been so successful that it has attracted Colorado state senators as guests.

The broadcast’s goals include informing parents about their rights and responsibilities, teaching them how to support their children in the home and at school, encourage involvement in parent meetings and familiarizing themselves with the Denver Public Schools.

The original host of the  Denver program, Alex Sanchez,  has now created a similar Sunday-morning program in the Austin Independent School District in Texas, known as Educa Austin. Sanchez is a Mexican immigrant, and is the district’s director of public relations and multicultural outreach.

“What I recognize is that if parents don’t participate in the education system in this country, it’s not because they don’t care about their kids, it’s because they don’t know how,” he told Take Part. “Active parents can demand services and programs that will help their kids graduate from high school on time, go to college, and have a better shot at the American dream. And who doesn’t want that?”

Related Links:

– “Parental Involvement: Radio Keeps Latino Parents in Tune With Their Kids’ Education,” Take Part.

– Educa Radio (Una iniciativa de las Escuelas Publicas de Denver)

– Radio helps Latinos, DPS stay tuned in to each other. The Denver Post.

– AISD to pilot Spanish radio program on weekend mornings, Austin American Statesman.

– Educa Austin

Spanish Immersion Popular in Minnesota Schools

Dual language immersion and bilingual programs are not limited to border states with large Latino populations such as Texas and California. They are gradually growing in number in states with much smaller Latino populations, such as Minnesota.

According to the Minnesota Department of Education, in 2011-12 there were 56,751 Latino students enrolled in grades K-12 — or about 7 percent of the state’s public school students.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that demographic changes in some communities are contributing toward the trend. In Hopkins, Minn., the number of Latino students has doubled in the last decade. Districts with growing diversity such as Hopkins, Richfield and Roseville are starting two-way dual language programs that serve both English language learners  dominant in Spanish and English proficient students.

But they also are growing because of demand among parents and a desire to equip students with the skills to compete in a global society.

The newspaper reports that of about 85 immersion programs in the state more than half are Spanish-language, and most are based in elementary schools. The Minnesota Advocates for Immersion Networks keeps a list of language immersion programs in the state. The Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA) at the University of Minnesota conducts research on programs. It is one of the U.S. Department of Education’s National Language Resource Centers.

Parent Nelson Peralta, an immigration attorney who is bilingual, said the Minneapolis immersion program helps his sixth-grade son.

“It would be great to see these options across the state,” Peralta told the Star Tribune. “It would make Minnesota stronger.”

When writing about dual language programs, consider thinking outside the box. Explore dual languages programs in suburbs and smaller cities, and not only in the inner city. You may be surprised to discover which schools and school districts are more likely to embrace such programs.

Related Links:

– “Surge in immersion programs spreads,” Minneapolis Star Tribune. 

– University of Minnesota Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA)

– Minnesota Advocates for Immersion Network

– “Little Canada Elementary dual-language aim: smarter, bilingual kids,” St. Paul Pioneer Press. 

Spanish Signs Spark Controversy at Elementary School

School officials should consider the following story a cautionary tale about what happens when a message becomes lost in translation. It also illustrates the importance of educators having adequate Spanish translation services.

The Milford School District in Delaware came under fire recently for several signs posted outside two elementary school playgrounds. In English, they warned that parent or guardian supervision was required for use of the playground equipment and to “play at your own risk.”

In Spanish, they carried a more intimidating message. They informed parents that “un permiso”–a permit–was required to play on the site and warned that violators would be subject to police action.

The signs have been posted for the past year. But they only drew attention when a local radio talk show Dan Gaffney host posted photos of them on his Facebook page.

“I think Milford schools are trying to keep ‘certain ethnic’ people away,” he wrote. “Shame.”

The post stirred up online outrage. As a result, Milford schools superintendent Phyllis Kohel and her husband personally removed them last Sunday.

Kohel called the signs inappropriate and that she understood why people were upset.

“We expect people to use our playgrounds anytime, without any special permission,” she told the Milford Beacon. “That’s what they’re here for.”

Kohel added that at the district’s middle and high school athletic fields, signs in English and Spanish warn that permits are required and violators could be subject to police action. There are no such signs in English at the elementary campuses, however.

“Those signs make sense at soccer sites,” Kohel told The Daily Times. “They don’t make sense at a playground.”

Some residents were disturbed by the incident and worried about the impact on the schools’ relationship with the Hispanic community. About 16 percent of the city’s residents are Latino.

“In that year, I wonder how many Spanish-speaking parents brought their kids to that park, then turned around and left with the feeling that they weren’t wanted,” resident Margaret Reyes told The Daily Times.

How does your school district handle translating information to English to Spanish? Do they use professional translators or bilingual staff?

Related Links:

– “Spanish Signs with Intimidating Message Removed from Delaware Playgrounds.” Fox News Latino. 

– “Controversial Milford school playground signs removed.” Milford Beacon. 

– “Delaware: ‘Threatening’ signs removed at Milford schools.” The Daily Times.