By Kayla Sosa
After being immersed into the Portuguese language studying abroad in Brazil, Grand Valley State University student Olivia Seaver was trying to think of ways she could keep up with learning and retaining languages once she came back to the United States.
“When I went there, I didn’t know any Portuguese at all,” Seaver said. “After three months of hearing only Portuguese, I was already somewhat fluent. And also with Spanish. By spending time with my boyfriend, who’s Mexican, and his family, i started hearing Spanish all the time and I started picking it up in that way.”
From personal experience and research, Seaver said that the best and fastest way to learn a language is through total immersion – doing all things in that language so that you eventually are forced to learn and understand.
“Now that I’m not in another country, to keep up on my Spanish and Portuguese, I’ll watch a Disney movie in Spanish or listen to music in Portuguese, so I know that’s another good way to keep up with it.”
Additionally, Seaver found in her research that the best time for someone to learn a language is between the ages of two and 12.
Through those practices – immersion, storytelling, music and a focus on children – Seaver hopes to start an after school program for kids that will help them learn another language.
“It would be kind of like a daycare, but that daycare would be completely in Spanish,” she said. “All the teachers, all the caretakers, everybody’s only speaking Spanish, they play movies in Spanish, they play songs in Spanish, they organize games and activities – like Apples to Apples – in Spanish.”
One challenge looking forward, Seaver said, is that kids that are a little older and closer to 12 years old will have a harder time at first learning the language.
“It can be very difficult and frustrating at first,” she said. “In my experience with language learning, it’s kind of flat in the beginning, but then it’s exponential.”
After initial research, Seaver did a community survey to garner the interest or need for a program like this in Grand Rapids.
“I found that 90 percent of people that I surveyed said that they would put their kids in a program like this if it existed,” Seaver said. “More surprisingly, 94 percent said they wished they would’ve had this experience as a kid.”
Recently, Seaver placed second place in the GVSU Idea Pitch Competition hosted by the GVSU CEO club, an student-run entrepreneur club on campus. With a fresh business idea – she came up with it a week before the pitch competition – and a $750 check, Seaver is ready to test the waters.
“I said in my pitch that I would work on a pilot program with some elementary school Spanish teachers that I know,” she said. “I’d like to look for Spanish teachers here at Grand Valley and work with them. We don’t necessarily need lesson plans, but you need to plan activities.”
Seaver would then use the money to buy the appropriate materials for games and activities to do with the kids, and of course to pay the teachers involved in the pilot program.
Seaver is a senior at GVSU, double majoring in Management and Spanish. You can also find her working as a conversation partner at the GV ELS Center in Allendale.