When our children learn a skill, such as a new language, parents or caregivers might feel anxious to test their progress. It’s exciting, after all, to see a child’s growth and development happen right before our eyes. However, learning is a process and there are several different levels kids go through as they work their way towards proficiency.
Learning vs. Performing
“What did you learn today,” is an innocent enough question and, one might think, a great way to start a discussion with your child about their learning progress. However, this type of question doesn’t provide insight into what he or she is learning as much as it tests his or her ability to perform on command. Our current education model focuses primarily on performance as proof that a child is learning, so it’s natural to think this is a good way to understand progress. While performance can certainly give us some solid information on what a child has mastered, it provides only a portion of what a child might actually “know” or be developing on the inside.
Context – Developing Skills and Mastering Skills
New learners might find it easy to use their language skills in the classroom where the teacher and all of the familiar teaching tools are readily available. Once they leave that environment, however, and the cue cards are gone and the books aren’t being read, it’s more difficult to find where the newly acquired vocabulary fits into their world. Practicing, learning, mastering, manipulating, and then speaking a new language in a variety of situations takes time. A class that utilizes speaking as one of its main teaching methods is best equipped to help students make that transition from “classroom only” speaking, to speaking newly learned vocabulary or grammar outside the context of class. This is challenging and shows the highest level of mastery.
It Takes Time
In an immersion school setting, where a child speaks and listens to Spanish for six or more hours a day, it can take up to seven years to gain true, native-like proficiency. During this process, typically at the beginning, a child may go through a silent period where he does not speak the newer language and/or his own native language for weeks, months, or even a year; and all of this is considered normal along the vast continuum of learning.
While it’s likely a child will learn to communicate effectively and fluidly in much less than seven years, how long it takes your child to bring language from class into other settings depends on a myriad of things, and the mix is truly unique to each individual. Their personality (extrovert or introvert), their learning style (visual, verbal, auditory, kinesthetic) and most important, how much exposure and practice your child has outside of the class will determine how quickly they learn.
Just as a child who practices soccer once a week does better if she has weekend games, opportunities to play at recess or PE, and a soccer ball at home, so will a student studying language progress faster the more opportunities she has for practice and exposure.
However your child progresses in their learning journey, he or she will do best with your patience and encouragement along the way.