Let's Play in Spanish
By Mary Aviles
SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA -- Peruvian-American teacher Susy Dorn has created a system for giving children immersion classes in Spanish that combine music, puppets, painting and dance to make it fun to learn that language.
"Let's Play in Spanish" started up 10 years ago when this graduate from the Catholic University in Lima found that there were few options for learning her language in the San Francisco Bay Area.
"There was nothing that would bring everything together - theater, music, painting and games," Dorn, who began her program in the home of a friend with eight children, said in an interview with Efe.
"Word got around" and now some 700 children, some as young as 10 months, attend classes of "Let's Play in Spanish" in San Francisco, Campbell, Santa Cruz, Palo Alto and Saratoga.
Each one-hour class is based on a song that contains vocabulary and concepts that are developed at a series of "stations." In an orderly fashion the youngsters go from one station to the next, each building on the subject of the day through its specialty of music, games, painting, puppets, or whatever it might be.
"The idea is that they learn while playing, that they have fun," the 34-year-old teacher said, stressing the effectiveness of music in the learning system.
Dorn, who sings and plays guitar, composed and performs all the songs on the five discs with their respective books that are the basis of the program, and also did the arrangements of traditional Latin America melodies for the Christmas album. She has also produced two DVDs.
The teaching materials allow parents to give additional instruction in the language at home and also helps youngsters learn Spanish who live where there is no local program, but which they can access via Internet at http://www.letsplayinspanish.com.
"Most children who attend class come from families that don't speak Spanish. I would say that only 20 percent are children of Latinos whose parents want them to keep up with the language," Dorn said.
Diana Warneke has had two daughters, Frances, 4, and Fridze, 2, in the program since each was about a year old.
"Their Spanish has been improved by the Spanish classes and the books and DVD," Warneke, whose mother is Mexican and who speaks Spanish to her little girls, told Efe.
"I love languages and if I can give them the gift of learning another language, so much the better," she said.
"The best heritage we can leave our kids is another language," she said.
According to Census data, Spanish remains the second most spoken language after English in the San Francisco Bay Area, characterized by its wide cultural diversity.
The program's teachers, all native Spanish speakers, also give concerts in the Bay Area like the benefit in Campbell for homeless kids in Peru, attended by some 400 people and collecting more than $5,000.
Among Dorn's plans is producing a seventh disc with its text and a new DVD next year, as well as expanding the program to other cities in the United States.