Learning Spanish is becoming more important for Americans every day, so the pilot launch of an interactive learning program in schools is being carried out to create a new model for introducing the United States' second-most-spoken language into the country's educational system.
E.L. Haynes Public Charter School in Washington has been the first to employ the new program that enables students to study Spanish on their own computers using specialized software.
The fact is that Washington's large Hispanic presence makes it increasingly necessary to adjust public-school education to the needs of each student.
"We have students who are ethnically Latinos but know nothing of Spanish, or they can speak it but not write it, and there are others who speak no English at all," the school's founder and head, Jennie Nyles, told Efe.
Teacher Teresa Danskey said that this software provides ninth-grade students with Spanish classes that personalize the learning more than traditional methods do, while combining understanding, reading, writing, vocabulary and pronunciation in a single method.
She explained that English-speaking students aren't the only ones who need help with their Spanish - all Spanish-speakers need to hone their language skills since so many of them lack command of the written language.
With this new program, students look at photos on their computers that they then have to describe orally - the software indicates whether the words and pronunciation are correct or not. Other activities require the student to write phrases or answer questions.
Traditional methods are more like group exercises, but this system is very personal. The program doesn't go on to the next lesson until the student has satisfactorily completed the one he or she is working on," Danskey said.
The program being introduced at Haynes in its pilot stage can be used to teach any language.
For students it's an easier and "more fun" way to learn Spanish, above all because of the difficulties English speakers so often have with Spanish pronunciation.
Kashmyere Hunter, one of the students taking the program, generally uses it a home, but often studies it during the morning before classes start, dedicating to it in all some three to four hours a week.
"The word that's hardest for me to pronounce is 'bicicleta' (bicycle)," 9th-grader Patrick Smith told Efe.
Smith still doesn't understand what his Spanish-speaking schoolmates talk about among themselves, but knows that the software will eventually enable him to grasp the meaning of what they say.
"It's a lot of fun to learn another language, but sometimes it's very hard to pronounce the words," he said.
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