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Spanish immersion program helps students with speech deficiencies

By Kayla A. Swenson
Language Learning In Utah

Thirty students sat on a colorful rug and waited for their teacher, Vitoria Floyd, to challenge them on their newly learned Spanish vocabulary.

When Floyd pointed to a picture of an umbrella held by a cartoon bear, the class shouted an enthusiastic, “paragua.” The thick Spanish vowels rolled off their tongues with ease.

Five of the 30 Heritage Elementary first graders struggle with speech articulation in English — and Spanish immersion may be the newest prescription.

Heritage Elementary implemented the Spanish Dual Language Immersion program two years ago. Students in the immersion program spend half of their day learning core academics in Spanish and the second half in English.

“I had a few students that I dismissed from services that are in the dual immersion program,” said Katie Coleman, a speech pathologist at Heritage Elementary.

“They go over the pronunciation of words more in Spanish than we do in English,” she said.

Dual immersion coordinators were initially unaware of the benefits it could provide students with speech disorders.

“Students who are receiving speech therapy have made excellent progress despite the fact that they are learning a second language,” said Shauna Winegar, the dual immersion coordinator for Cache County School District.

“Learning a second language seems to be helping rather than impeding those speech impediments,” she said.

Second grader Alec Bateson, who is enrolled in both speech therapy and Spanish immersion, said it was scary at first to not understand his teacher. Now his mother said he likes to make up songs in Spanish.

“We’ve seen a ton of growth,” said Mieka Bateson, Alec’s mother. “He was able to get his G and K sounds last year and we are confident that he will continue to improve.”

Coleman said the effectiveness of the DLI program to improve speech depends a lot on the academic abilities of the child and the sounds offered in the language.

“I know in Spanish they overemphasize their R’s,” Coleman said.

Certain students have been able to overcome their struggle in pronouncing the letter R due to the emphasis Spanish puts on the R consonant.

“That was quite unexpected for us but rewarding,” Floyd said on realizing that students in her class have progressed. “When they are young they have the ability to develop more muscles in their brain to create new sounds.”

Floyd is from El Salvador and said that all of her first grade students have already adopted her native accent instead of an “American learning Spanish” accent. She said because they are so young it is easier to mimic sounds.

“It’s been nothing but a positive for us,” Bateson said.

-mdl