Hello. Hola. Bonjour. Ni Hao.
Four languages. One meaning.
Whether it’s English, Spanish, French or Mandarin, mastering a second or third or fourth language is within reach – especially at a young age. Language and cultural programs for children are springing up across the county, as parents realize that fluency in a language connects children to their heritage and can open many doors.
At Isabella and Ferdinand Academia de Español in Coral Gables, students are mastering how to read, write and speak the language, as well as learning about Spanish art, history, literature and music.
The nonprofit organization was founded in 2008 in Washington, D.C., by two mothers, Pilar Frank O’Leary, 43, and Alexandra Migoya, 41, who originally created the program for their children. Two years ago the co-founders launched a summer camp in Key Biscayne, which led them to open a location in Coral Gables in August.
“I was really surprised about the response I received from my Miami friends,” O’Leary said. “It was almost counter-intuitive. From the moment you land in Miami, you feel like you’re in the capital of Latin America.”
But children can quickly lose their fluency if they’re not regularly speaking the language. Additionally, many kids talk “Spanglish” and their accents fade as they talk more in English and less in Spanish.
Isabella and Ferdinand’s curriculum is based on the linguistic standards of the Instituto Servantes in Madrid and the American Council on the Teaching of the world (ACTFL). Classes are offered for children ages 1 to 11 throughout the academic year and open to native and non-native Spanish speakers. For toddlers from 1 to 3, there is a “Mommy and Me” class where the children listen to Spanish songs, look at pictures of Spanish culture, and have storytelling time.
According to ACTFL, most infants and toddlers from birth to 3 can begin to associate words they hear frequently, listen to stories, and recognize certain books by their covers.
For the older children, classes are broken down into three sessions: the history of the Spanish heritage, a tour through Latin America and cultural heroes of the Spanish-speaking world.
All the teachers at Isabella and Ferdinand are native Spanish speakers; English is not allowed in the classroom.
“In our classes, children as young as 4 are experiencing Cervantes, Dario and Lorca and learning about artists such as Velázquez, Picasso, Botero and Diego Rivera,” O’Leary added. “And the best part is, they love it.”
For those looking to develop young Francophiles, a French program on Saturday mornings may be the answer.
Education Francaise Floride (EFF), offers French classes for children ages 4 to 13 at the Downtown Miami Charter School. EFF was founded in 2007 by a group of parents living in Miami Beach who wanted to create a French bilingual program modeled after the French program at Sunset Elementary in Coral Gables. The classes are on Saturday mornings so more children can attend.
“In Miami, being the way that it is, if you put a language program in one school, it is only convenient for the students in that school,” said Francoise Perez, 40, president of EFF.
EFF has the best of both worlds – a French program open to the community that is taught by Miami-Dade Schools French teachers, who teach on a freelance basis on the weekends. The program is not affiliated with Miami Dade Public Schools.