Our twin girls were about six months old when my husband decided on a whim to begin speaking only Spanish to the children. He had learned to speak Spanish while attending high school in Texas, and he then became fluent while working abroad.
My husband continued speaking the language to our daughters for years, despite being frustrated that the girls would speak English back to him (a common phenomenon among young learners of a second language). Since I only spoke English with the girls, it became harder and harder to get them to speak in Spanish. We read to them in Spanish and watched videos in Spanish. When they were three or four years old, their comprehension of the Spanish language outgrew my own limited knowledge, so I would turn on the English subtitles when they watched Spanish cartoons. While they clearly understood a substantial amount, they still rarely spoke Spanish to their Dad or to anyone else.
Then without warning, it seemed, the twins' elementary school days were upon us. Gone was a full day at home, and they soon began participating in after school activities like soccer and ballet. They took Spanish at this school, so they had some exposure to the language, but our efforts to be a bilingual household languished. As the early school years flew by, we would occasionaly lament that all of the effort we put in their early years had been wasted.
Years later, however, that early exposure to Spanish has paid off for the girls. We credit Potomac for helping our family realize the hopes we had for our twins to eventually be become fully bilingual.
When the girls arrived at Potomac in the fourth grade in 2010, the Middle School was undergoing some changes. A dynamic new division leader – John Mathews, who now heads the Middle and Intermediate Schools – was in his second year as MS Head. That fall, Mr. Mathews was charged with helping implement a new language program in the division. Beginning that year, all three Middle School grades (4 through 6) took Spanish simultaneously, and the program was altered over the next couple of years until it was fully realized.
Prior to implementation, a committee of faculty and administrators was charged with investigating the best way to add a foreign language to the lower grades. It was an in-depth and thoughtful process with input from many constituencies at the school. The committee concluded that Potomac should choose only one language and forge as close to an immersive environment as possible. Students in grades 4 through 6 now learn the language through connections made with other subject areas.
As part of the Intermediate School's 8th grade language program, my daughters traveled to Spain with their teachers and other students. That trip made a lasting impression, and now, as students in the Upper School, Spanish is among our daughters' favorite classes. They have both honed their language skills in the many levels of classes offered in the US, and they've benefitted from studying alongside friends who speak the language at home. Both have expressed a strong desire to study and live abroad and will likely make foreign language study a centerpiece of their college experiences.
We are so grateful to Potomac's Spanish teachers for helping us to promote what we think of as a part of our own family's mission statement – to raise global citizens who can speak and think in more than one language. As parents and now as a family, we believe that speaking a language other than one's own native language can promote peace and international harmony. In short, it helps achieve a fundamental human need: the ability to understand one other. Thankfully, our kids are in a school that promotes just that.