While most people have highlighted March 20 on their calendars to mark the first day of spring, my colleagues Beni, Emily, Vanessa and I have highlighted March 29. We wait for this day all year with guarded anticipation – it’s the date of Read La Porte County’s Annual Spell Bowl.

Reading is a cause that is very close to our hearts. Countless research documents early reading to language development and success in school – not to mention that the time a parent spends reading with a child strengthens the parent/child bond.

Years ago, a reporter at the Spell Bowl asked our team what it is that helps us to be good spellers. We answered unrehearsed yet in unison, “Reading.” Without a doubt, reading expands one’s vocabulary and deepens one’s knowledge. It exposes us to territories previously unchartered in our minds. And, if you have a stressful day, nothing melts away the worries like getting lost in a good book.

I’d be remiss, though, if I didn’t attribute some of our championship team’s success to knowledge of foreign languages. Even though we still carry the agony of misspelling the French word for pickled cucumber (cornichon), I like to brag on the four of us for collectively having some degree of fluency in French, German, Spanish, Latin, Hebrew and Greek. We credit our foreign language knowledge to our formal studies in school, foreign travels and our love of foreign food.

What I found most amazing about learning foreign languages is that it forced me to pause and think about what I was speaking and writing. I had to consider the placement of adverbs and adjectives and to make sure that my noun correlated with my verb. And, with Spanish, French and German, I learned the entirely new phenomena of nouns having a masculine or feminine persuasion, which we don’t have in the English language.

Studying a foreign language helps us to become more proficient in our own language. Think for a moment about how you learned to speak English – you picked up on the sounds from those around you and observed the expressions and responses that those sounds elicited. Eventually, you gained the skills to form words, then sentences. As you grew, so did your vocabulary. Your speech likely became more colorful, more descriptive.

In those early days of talking, you weren’t thinking about whether you speaking in the past perfect, conditional or future perfect tense. In French class, though, speaking in the proper tense may be the difference between earning an A or an F.

Whether your foreign language skills are a little rusty from non-use or you never studied a foreign language, your knowledge of foreign words and phrases is likely more expansive than you may realize. You can inject those familiar words into everyday conversation to stimulate your child’s interest in learning a foreign language. Words like “adios,” “bonjour,” “tout de suite” (pronounced “toot sweet”, meaning immediately) “Guten Tag,” “merci” and “arrivederci” are easy starters.

Today, learning a foreign language is easier than ever before using phone apps. I’m using duolingo to teach myself German. With the lessons on my phone, I can practice while stopped at a railroad crossing, sitting in the orthodontist’s office or waiting for the car to warm up in the morning. The lessons are fun and can be repeated as many times as necessary for me to be able to distinguish between “die,” “das,” and “der.” Duolingo is just one of several good apps available. You may want to check out apps online to see which one is a right fit for you and/or your child. I’m hoping that duolingo will be my new secret weapon in this year’s Spell Bowl. Unlike the Spell Bowl, which causes blood pressure to rise and palms to sweat, learning a foreign language doesn’t have any health risks.

It won’t be long before your child says “Bonne Nuit” as she scoots to bed and you reply, “Je t’aime.”

Pamela Henderson is the director of development and communications at Dunebrook. To learn more about parenting and support programs at Dunebrook, call (800) 897-0007. Email Pam with parenting questions and comments at pam@dunebrook.org.

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