University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire

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$40,000 Gift to UW-Eau Claire Foundation Establishes
Spanish Language Immersion Program

 MAILED:  Nov. 16, 2004

EAU CLAIRE — Elementary students from the Eau Claire Area School District will have the opportunity to begin learning Spanish language and culture thanks to a $40,000 gift from the Presto Foundation to the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Foundation.

The language immersion program, starting in January, will match a total of 40 first graders in two classes at Robbins and Roosevelt elementary schools with a student in the foreign language program at UW-Eau Claire and with a native Spanish speaker. The classes will meet once a week for an hour and include age-appropriate language instruction as well as cultural experiences. The program will continue to offer these students instruction in Spanish in grades two through five and enroll at least 40 new first graders each year.

"This is a great opportunity for elementary students to develop a significant interest in Spanish, and because there will be a longer exposure to the language there will be more development of language proficiency," said Paul Hoff, UW-Eau Claire professor of Spanish and foreign language education and director of the Honors Program.

For more than 30 years UW-Eau Claire has offered free foreign language classes each spring to Chippewa Valley elementary schoolchildren. These short-term programs, however, have provided only limited exposure to language and culture.

The longer involvement with the language will help students to achieve more academically, said Andrew Thiel, principal at Robbins Elementary School .

"The fact that these students will be exposed not just for one year, but for five years, will really make a difference," said Thiel. "They'll be far more likely to sign up for Spanish in middle school, have a greater appreciation for another culture and be proficient leaders in Spanish class."

The benefits of this program to the student teachers will also be immense, said Hoff.

"The student teachers will get a chance to teach motivated, interested students and experience what it's like to teach Spanish at an elementary level," he said.

In addition to benefiting from the language exposure, students also will have a chance to learn more about another culture, said Thiel.

"By having the native speaker present the students will get to hear native accents and learn about the teacher's personal experiences growing up in a different country and culture," he said.

Not only will students acquire Spanish language skills and cultural knowledge, but the program also will benefit their learning in other ways, said Thiel.

"Making the connections and hearing the relationship between the sounds and the words in Spanish helps students learn to be better decoders in English as well," he said. "It will exercise their brains and make them stronger learners."

Overall long-term sequential learning is a better way to teach a language, said Hoff.

"These children will have a wonderful opportunity to have significant exposure to Spanish instead of just whetting their appetite. They will really have a chance to develop their communication skills and cultural understanding."

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Updated: November 16, 2004