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Bilingualism Plus One: Middle School Spanish and the DELE

Starting in the sixth grade, every FAA student is enrolled in an immersion Spanish class for two hours each week. There are many reasons that we require Spanish lessons in middle school, as our students are already attaining fluency in both French and English. Since most of our middle schoolers have been learning and speaking two languages from a young age, we know that their brains already have ingrained structures for language acquisition. With these well-developed neural language networks, learning a third language becomes relatively easier for them. We also wish to open up even more of the world for our students through multilingualism – speaking French, English, and Spanish can grant students linguistic access to more than 100 countries and territories throughout the world! Additionally, our students are well prepared for high school and college language classes, having already built a solid foundation in three languages. 

On May 17th, our eighth grade class traveled to the Instituto Cervantes in Manhattan to take the DELE exam (Diplomas de Español como Lengua Extranjera) – an oral and written proficiency test that caps our middle schoolers’ three years of Spanish language study. Similar to the DELF, the DELE tests students’ reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills: 

  • During the reading component of the exam, students are asked to read a series of texts or documents and answer multiple choice questions about them. 
  • To demonstrate their writing skills, they are given a prompt and must write a response in the correct form, such as a letter, a personal narrative text, or a short essay. 
  • During the listening portion, students answer questions about a dialog or speech they hear. 
  • Finally, students undergo the speaking component of the exam. They have a short period of time to choose their topic and prepare themselves to speak, then they deliver their response to a Spanish speaking interlocutor. 

Each student is assigned a leveled test based on their Spanish language skills. Students take either A1, A2, or A2/B1 “scholar” level based on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages and are then issued an official certificate of proficiency.

Summative language testing such as the DELE is a useful component of tracking language progress, and the standardized CEFR results can be very helpful in determining students’ placement in high school and college language classes. In preparing students for the exam, our Spanish teacher focuses on the format and types of skills needed for the test throughout the eighth grade year. These skills  overlap neatly with many essential academic and conversational skills in building language fluency, and are transferable to other languages and academic areas. Incorporating the study of a third language builds on our students’ already-established linguistic cognitive networks and allows them access to the Spanish speaking world. And measuring their proficiency with a reputable international exam gives them valuable practice while better preparing them for high school and college language study.

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