Bringing languages to life |

Bringing languages to life

Photo by Josh Miller/Sierra Sun Lengua Viva co-founders Tamara Chisholm and Beth Bradford look down from the old Pied Piper Pre-School building, where their inaugural Summer Spanish Language Camp will be located.

The Lengua Viva Center for Language and Culture has got a lot of parents in Truckee excited about the chance to give their kids a head start toward bilingualism.Starting in mid-June, approximately 10 preschool-aged children will begin the inaugural Summer Spanish Language Camp – an 8-week program designed to expose the students to an authentic and diverse language learning environment.Joining the preschool class at the center in late June will be two English as a Second Language classes designed for Spanish-speaking adults in the community.And that’s just the beginning. Lengua Viva founders and co-owners Tamara Chisholm and Beth Bradford hope to expand the center into a true cultural center in the Truckee community, offering everything from the preschool program and ESL classes to Spanish, French and Italian classes for adults. The pair even envision offering tutoring in traditional subjects such as math, language arts and sciences.Chisholm’s preschool program, designed for students 3 to 5 years of age, will start things off this summer with an ambitious goal and a great deal of solid research and teaching experience behind it.Chisholm and Bradford have over 30 years of experience and education in working with languages and cultures within the United States and abroad. And both have led successful language programs for kids and adults in the North Tahoe/Truckee area.For the preschool program, Chisholm hopes to duplicate a natural learning environment as much as possible, with the only difference being that 95 percent of the lessons will be conducted in Spanish.

“When kids can be doing and touching and seeing what I’m doing, it just really sinks in,” she said of the immersion approach her class will utilize. “It’s really teaching a language the way they learn their first language.”According to Chisholm, the Pre-K Spanish language camp will be limited to no more than 10 kids to allow her to give personalized attention to all of the students and because of limitations at the facility. She stressed that the language camp would not be a rigorous academic program, but will instead utilize arts, music, dance, a traditional Mayan “milpa” (an intercropping vegetable garden of corn, beans and squash) and a puppet theater to make learning Spanish natural and fun for the kids.Chisholm claims that recent research has shown that kids between the ages of 3 and 8 are ideally suited to learn a second language, and to learn to speak like native speakers do.Many of the parents of the first class of kids agree:”The research shows that if they start a language this early they can acquire it much more easily and with no accent,” said Eve Werner, who has enrolled her son Nate, 5, in the program. “But mostly [he’s enrolled] because he really enjoys languages. He’s a real talker.”That sentiment was echoed by Jen Lang-Ree, whose daughter Claire, 4, is also enrolled in the preschool program.”I wanted her to learn Spanish at a young age when it’s easier to learn a language. I learned French when I was 5 and it was easy for me,” she said.Learning a second language might come easily to kids who are immersed in one at such a young age, but the benefits of being bilingual can be monumental, Chisholm said.

“I feel that it’s important for us to learn more than one language, especially because of what’s happening in our world,” Chisholm said. “To be bilingual, I feel like it opens your mind to the culture and you’re exposed to things you would otherwise not have in your life.”Heather Sullivan, whose three-year-old son Patrick is also enrolled and who has also been a bilingual elementary school teacher, agreed. “I think that any school or program that encourages bilingualism is only going to help a child… I’ve seen the impact of a second language on children and I’ve seen the impact of second language schools, and I’ve only seen positive experiences.”Adult ESLAt the other end of the spectrum, Bradford’s adult ESL classes will be a continuation of the program she has taught at Truckee Elementary for the past year and a half. She plans to divide her students into a beginning literacy class for those just starting out with English and a multi-level class for adults who have had more exposure to the language.”The classes really range in age from 18 to 65, and I have people from all walks of life,” Bradford said.Both classes will focus on themes that are important to Spanish speakers in the Truckee community, including how to find a job, shopping, how to make the most of community resources, the government and history.

“Basically my approach is using as much of the four skills – listening, reading, speaking and writing – as possible,” Bradford said, adding that she hopes to bring in guest speakers to help illustrate the lessons learned in class as much as possible.Both Chisholm and Bradford see the center as an opportunity to build bridges between cultures in the Truckee community.”We really want it to be seen as a place where cultures can meet … a multi-cultural center that has options for everyone,” Chisholm said. “I don’t really know that there’s a place like that now.”To that end, the two founders are planning to get their classes together for lessons that reinforce what they are learning in the classroom. Chisholm and Bradford are planning an open house sometime in mid-July to show the public just what kinds of programs they will have at the center.”Hopefully people will take advantage of the vast cultural resources we have in our community,” Bradford said. For more information about Lengua Viva or any of its programs, call (530) 582-9434 or visit

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