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Second Language Acquisition

Quadraturbedingung der Cheopspyramide
(in German)

Gustavo Vieyra
Teacher (LAUSD)
75th St. Elem. School
142 W. 75th Str.
L.A. CA 90003
Dresden, Germany ©Vieyra: November 16, 2006

The Concrete Social-Linguistic Setting in Spanish as the First Objective for Non-Spanish-Speaking Preschool Children

By Gustavo Vieyra

        In order for non-Spanish-speaking preschool children to learn Spanish as a second native language, I propose a new social and psycholinguistic order in the daily life of such children. This requires the transformation of most social and psycholinguistic interactions from a monolingual format into a bilingual mind-set. With the help of the tutors, parents and adults the first objective is that any non-Spanish-speaking child may become conscious of the potential of communicating in Spanish in all possible concrete social instances.

        Thus, the first objective is for all socially concrete interactions to be transformed into the Spanish language. For example, if a tutor wants a preschool pupil to act out certain social expectations__, such as drinking water, sitting on a chair, etc.__, then in all such concrete social cases the interaction between the adult and the child should be in Spanish.

        Thus, a {set of concrete social directives} should become the order of the day in the school and home setting. This means that in all cases dealing with very concrete "social undertakings" the language of communication should be in Spanish. This means for example that every time that a child wants to drink water or go to the restroom he-she shall be guided by the adult to communicate these and other similar actions in Spanish.

        These "social directives" help children acquire a certain level of syntactic development at the psychic and psychomotor level. However, in order for a child to start thinking and speaking in complete sentences I would like to postulate the following hypothesis:

"The Sequential Linguistic and Literacy Development Hypothesis"

  1. First, in terms of native language acquisition, a child begins to understand complete sentences or words in the social and concrete context. Thus, "linguistic comprehension" comes first at the lowest level of abstraction within the social-physical environment.
  2. Second, a child is able to speak what he or she is able to understand.
  3. Third, a child is able to read what he or she is able to speak.
  4. Fourth, a child is able to write what he or she is able to read or speak.

        According to this hypothesis, the first stage of linguistic development is oral language comprehension within the context of native language acquisition. That is, before a child begins to speak, he-she begins to understand his/her native language. This means that children go through a period of silence before they can communicate orally. If this "first native-language model" is to be followed within the natural context of Spanish as a "second native language," it means that the tutors, parents and all adults should take every opportunity in order to communicate in Spanish with the children whenever a "socially concrete setting" arises out of the daily school and home activities:

  1. Peter, ¡siéntate por favor! (Peter, sit down please!).
  2. ¡Siéntate en la silla por favor! (sit on the chair please!).
  3. ¡ Toma (bebe) agua ! (drink water!).
  4. ¿Quiéres agua? (do you want water?).
  5. ¿Quiéres jugar? (do you want to play?).
  6. ¿Quiéres comer? (do you want to eat?).
  7. ¡Abre la puerta por favor! (open the door please!).
  8. ¡Cierra la puerta por favor! (close the door please!).
  9. ¡Levántate rápido! (stand up quickly!).
  10. ¡Levántate despacio! (stand up slowly!).
  11. Etc.

        During the silent period, this means that the child is able to comprehend and act out such "linguistic undertakings" in a given concrete social situation. The tutor, parent or adult must consciously search and define such natural teachable moments. Thus, it is not a matter of preparing a lesson or designing certain learning materials for a particular school period, but rather a matter of becoming aware that such "socially concrete moments" are given on many "natural occasions" during the normal curricular activities. For example, while the pupils are involved in any activity, they should interact in Spanish with the tutor in very concrete terms whenever a natural socio-physical situation arises:

Pupil:     Ms. Johnson, may I go to the restroom?
Tutor:     OK, but how do you say it in Spanish?
Pupil:     I do not know!
Tutor:     ¿Puédo ir al baño? (elongating certain phonemes and syllables as much as possible: __¿Puuéeedooo iiirrr aaalll baaañooo?
Pupil:     (with the help of the tutor the child repeats the question in Spanish very slowly).
Tutor:     OK, now it is time to go to the kitchen. "¡Vamos a la cocina!. ¡Vamos, vamos, vamos! ¡Vamos a la cocina! Let´s go, let´s go, let´s go to the kitchen!

        This means that throughout all preschool activities, certain concrete social settings will arise in which the tutor will interject the Spanish language in a very comprehensible and concrete manner. The tutor, parent or adult may say something very concrete in Spanish along with its counterpart in the first native language (in this case, English, but it can be any other native language). It must be very clear to the pupils what the tutor is trying to say in Spanish. In this sense, the best learning material is not a teacher´s guide or even certain didactic materials, but rather the concrete environmental setting in and by itself along with a very creative and inspirational tutor, parent or adult.

        In essence, what I propose is to take the pupils back to the very concrete stage of a two-year old child. At this early stage, children live in "the here and now." The immediate surroundings play a greater role in the psychic existence of the child. This is the stage in which children discover that objects correspond to a certain name at the lowest level of abstraction. In essence, some people may argue that we are dealing with a zero level of abstraction (Vieyra, 2006), but according to Vygotsky (Denken und Sprechen, 2002) we are dealing with the very first level of abstraction. By age five and six as we know it from Piaget (2000), children enter a stage of higher abstraction, but relatively very concrete ("concrete operational"). In terms of second language acquisition, the objective is to recreate these very early stages of child development not just in light of the above postulated hypothesis ("The Sequential Linguistic and Literacy Development Hypothesis"), but also in light of a music-poetic continuum in Spanish, English and German to be developed.


Piaget, J. (2000). Psychologie der Intelligenz. Mit einer Einführung von Hans Aebli. Olten: Walter - Verlag.
Vieyra, G. (unpublished article: Los Angeles, August 21, 2006): "A Dialectical Interpretation of Factual Knowledge in Vygotskyan Terms vs. Bloom´s Taxonomy as Interpreted by the Teaching Staff at 75th Street Elementary School (LAUSD)".
Vygotsky, L.S. (1999). Thought and Language. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
Vygotskij, L. S. (2002). Denken und Sprechen (Though and Language). Weinheim und Basel: Beltz Verlag GmbH