Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Expanding Their Horizons during Lunch Foreign Language Clubs Are Popular at Carrick School

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Expanding Their Horizons during Lunch Foreign Language Clubs Are Popular at Carrick School

Article excerpt

Like most elementary schools in the city, Pittsburgh Concord K-5 in Carrick doesn't have time or money for world language instruction.

It uses ingenuity to help children learn a language.

This spring, it started two foreign language clubs that meet weekly at lunch and are taught by two paraprofessionals at the school -- Celia O'Brien, who is a native Spanish speaker, and Jason Bhandari, a Bhutanese refugee who is native Nepali speaker.

Ms. O'Brien and Mr. Bhandari are assigned to Concord because it is a center for English as a second language, or ESL.

Of the 451 students enrolled at Concord, more than 100 are not native English speakers. Most of them speak Nepali, but other languages spoken include Spanish, Burmese, Karen, Vietnamese, French and Swahili.

"There's a real need for the community to be aware of cultural diversity here at Concord," principal Jessica Colbert said.

It was a "natural fit" to enlist Ms. O'Brien and Mr. Bhandari to run clubs once a week instead of supervising lunch, Ms. Colbert said.

A language club was tried at Pittsburgh Beechwood K-5 in Beechview a few years ago but was discontinued after the teacher, who was certified in Spanish, left the school.

Concord has demand for the clubs, which are open to English speakers in grades 4 and 5. Each has 11 students, but more than 40 applied to be in the clubs.

Those in the clubs showed an eagerness to be able to communicate better with their classmates.

"I have four or five friends who speak Spanish," said fifth- grader Sidney Bath, who said she knows 78 Spanish words. "I wanted to learn Spanish so I could speak to them."

Fourth-grader Maddy Dalverny, who is in the Nepali club, said, "I wanted to learn what they were saying when they would talk to me so I can start interacting with them."

In the clubs, students learn about both language and culture.

At a recent Nepali club, students sampled kukhurako masu, a spicy chicken dish, while learning to pronounce vocabulary, such as "bhat" for rice. Mr. Bhandari also showed the words written in the Nepali alphabet.

At a recent Spanish club, Ms. O'Brien practiced vocabulary in a bingo game, guiding the students as they also used food words in sentences expressing what they liked or didn't like.

"They're like sponges. They learn so fast," Ms. O'Brien said.

She said the students also find out how challenging and exciting learning a language can be.

Mr. Bhandari said the students are "getting a sense of comfort to talk with the Nepali people."

Marty Abbott, executive director of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, said research shows an early start on language learning is valuable.

She said learning a second language "is actually working a different part of the brain than the native language. When the brain gets that kind of a workout, it develops a lot more flexibility and ability to function in a better way. …

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