By Eren Simpson
Learning foreign languages is a family affair for Shylene Santiago and her eight children.
When Santiago’s now 10-month-old was born, he was born with a heart condition. Because of his fragility, Santiago decided she needed to quit the workforce and stay home with her son, and find a way to work from home to continue to provide for her family financially.
Santiago and her children already speak Spanish, but every time they went out to the store, the children overheard shoppers speaking languages other than Spanish, and wanted to know what they were saying.
“I said there’s a lot of people in the world who don’t speak Spanish, and my 9-year-old said, ‘Well, maybe we should learn,’ so we did,” Santiago said.
As Santiago and her children started learning the languages, Santiago realized the need for this type of language would work for other students, since languages aren’t offered in many public schools.
“That’s not OK here in the United States, the melting pot,” Santiago said. “So I said I’m going to create a program where I make learning a language fun.”
The program Santiago has created is for children aged six weeks to 9 years. And because learning a language can aid in slowing Alzheimer’s, Santiago and her children often take their program to nursing homes to sing to the residents.
So far, Santiago and her kids have explored 15 different languages, and she’s developed a curriculum for four of them, with plans to have a curriculum for all 15. Her background in working for day care centers and YMCAs has helped her in this process.
“We teach the basics,” she said. “We’re not saying we’re fluent. I teach you the basics, the alphabet, numbers, colors, everything a child would learn in preschool and kindergarten are what we and the kids teach.”
Santiago involves all eight of her children in the lessons -– from having them come up with fun facts for each of the countries they learn about, to picking out costumes, and videotaping the sessions and posting lessons on social media.
“I give everyone in the family a job, so they can understand this is a family effort and what we can do can actually impact and help other kids in a fun way,” Santiago said.
Santiago charges $10 a lesson if children join her at home, or $25 if she and the kids come to you. Their visits to the nursing homes are free. Santiago said she’s priced her lessons so that everyone can take advantage.
“Not everyone has money to travel the world and see all these beautiful things, and that’s what we do -– especially when we go to those nursing homes -– they’re at the end of this beautiful human experience, they can’t travel to Egypt and Spain, so we bring that to them,” she said.
Santiago said one of the best things about this experience has been seeing her children communicate with perfect strangers in their language, and making those cultural connections.
“Learning a different language opens your mind to so many different things,” she said.
While Learning A Language 4 Fun is still young, Santiago has big plans for her curriculum.
“I’m putting everything into this business,” Santiago said. “My goal right now is I want this program to be adopted into a curriculum for the public schools. I want it to be part of the curriculum for homeschoolers. The evolution of this program … I see it going so far.”
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