When we lived in Romania, I was trying hard to get my kids opportunities to learn to speak Romanian. There is a type of school in Romania that I think is wonderful, and every country should probably adopt this kind of school. They call the gradinitas. Translated, the words mean “kindergarten,” but these were not regular kindergartens. The children there were the age of children in nursery schools, but they were not actually the same as nursery schools either. They had special gradinitas especially to teach children to speak foreign languages. There were Hungarian gradinitas where the small children went and then began school speaking Hungarian. There were German gradinitas where the children went and came out speaking German when they began regular school. There were also English gradinitas where the children were sent to learn to speak English. I loved the concept.
All the teachers in the gradinitas spoke the prospective languages. They played with the kids all day and took care of them, and spoke to them in the target language. If the child was washing his hands, the teacher would speak to him in the target language and tell him what he was doing. They would give each student as much one on one as they could teaching them to respond to questions and say things in the target languages. They sang children’s songs with them in the target language. They played games with them in the target language. They taught them the alphabet in the target language. They read them stories in the target language. It was just like a mother does with her small children to teach them to speak and prepare them for school, but in a second language. All the children come out fluent in a second language. After that, they have elementary schools that are only taught in German or only taught in Hungarian. The children in Romania have lots of opportunities to learn foreign languages.
I met a lady who had an English gradinita. She suggested to me that I send my youngest son there since he was the same age as her students. I told her that he already knew how to speak English, and that I was actually looking for ways for him to learn to speak Romanian, not English. She told me that if I would send him to her school, he could come for free because he would be speaking in English to her students, and that she would give him special Romanian lessons and teach him to speak Romanian, so I agreed. I wanted him to learn to speak Romanian. He began going to the school, and he was doing really well. He was happy. He was making friends. He was getting along really well. He was coming home with new Romanian words all the time.
I had a Romanian friend who had a little boy his age. He and the little boy spent a lot of time playing together. They really enjoyed one another’s company. However, we learned that we really needed to stay in the room with those two because they could easily tear a room completely up if we turned our backs. They were both a couple of rough housing little boys, and that was one of the reasons they got along so well. If we weren’t looking, they may be throwing books, toys, anything they could get their hands on all over the room and end up standing on their heads in the midst of it all.
When I told my friend about my son’s school, she thought it was a great idea. She wanted her little boy to learn to speak English, so she enrolled him in the same school where my son was. They were both delighted to be together at school! They were great buddies and easily best friends.
One day my son came home from school and told me he had been sent to German class. He told me his buddy was also sent to German class. I was surprised because I didn’t know they taught German down there, but I wasn’t disappointed. He had gone there to learn to speak Romanian and was making progress, and if they were going to teach him German too, that was great! I encouraged him and told him it was great, and if he had a chance to go to German class again, he should go. He listened, and he kept coming home saying he had been sent to German class, and I congratulated him on his great opportunity. I encouraged him to keep trying to learn to speak German.
I saw my friend whose little boy was also attending the school. I told her that they had been sending my son to German class and how happy I was about it. She began laughing. She said, “Don’t you know what that means? If they are sent to German class, that is code for they got themselves into trouble.” She told me that her little boy had been getting himself in trouble too, and that he and my little boy had been turning the room upside down together again. I had been encouraging my little boy to get himself in trouble unwittingly, foot in mouth! I had to correct it and tell him not to go to German class anymore.