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Sixth-graders tackle new language





If the sixth-grade students in Amy Veatch's language learning lab are moving their lips, they aren't singing along to tunes coming through their earphones.

They're speaking Spanish -- or maybe English.

The language lab is being offered to Hays Middle School sixth-graders for the first time this year, said Shanna Dinkel, assistant principal.

"It's a good starting point," Dinkel said of the computer-based program that offers 30 languages.

Students alternate days between the language lab and physical education classes, so both are one semester courses but last all year.

The classes are a dynamic environment requiring speaking, reading, writing and listening, Dinkel said.

Veatch, an HMS technology assistant, is the Rosetta Stone lab supervisor for four classes.

Samuel Omoarelojie, the other technology assistant, also has four classes.

It's a self-paced program allowing the students to work independently.

The laptops, which stay in the classroom, are equipped with voice recognition software.

"Once it recognizes your voice, it goes to whatever you left off with before," Veatch said. "We can set them at whatever level we want to, but they start at basic."

To move to the next level in the program, students must reach a certain percentage of proficiency. Each level is different, and every activity has a target to achieve before moving to the next level.

Depending on the activity, students will speak, write or choose the correct picture for the answer.

Since the program offers several languages, English language learners are learning English while their peers are learning Spanish, in the same room.

Sixth-grader Peyton Thorell finds the class fun and better than learning from a textbook.

"It's easier to use because we use computers more than books. ... (It gives) positive reinforcement. It will go at your own pace. It's better to go at your own pace," he said.

Connor Olson, who knew a few Spanish words before taking the class, said he thinks the computer program is easier than having a classroom teacher.

Zoe Martin would rather have a teacher.

"It has different voices, and it's hard to understand. They all sound different. I think it would be easier with a teacher," she said.

Veatch said she's also completing the program and learning along with the students to be able to answer their questions.

"It's getting harder as it progresses," she said. "We ask them to write things down when they don't understand."

Dinkel said administrators would like to offer more language classes, but at least now, "they will have some exposure (to Spanish) when they get to high school."