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ABC Spanish in Motion captures toddlers' fun in learning new language

Posted by Roy Greene  May 7, 2012 04:00 PM

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(Stefanie Le for

The South End Branch of the Boston Public Library wasn’t its usual quiet, browsing atmosphere on a recent day. The place was filled with toddlers, ages 1 to 6, stomping, dancing, and singing at the top of their lungs. But they weren’t causing a disturbance — they were learning Spanish.

Jouveth Shortell led a group of approximately 30 to 40 toddlers in singing and and marching to original songs written by Shortell herself. The Wednesday morning class was a demonstration meant to help introduce the community to the bilingual program, ABC Spanish in Motion, that teaches children up to 6 years old Spanish through movement and music.

(See photographs of the class in this gallery.)

“We use sign language, we use puppets, toys, books — everything that a child likes to make it very, very natural. But I have created my own curriculum,” said Shortell, who chooses different topics for every season and writes and records original songs in the studio with musicians that incorporate new vocabulary for each class.

Created in 2009 by Shortell, ABC Spanish in Motion has expanded to several communities in Eastern Massachusetts, from Belmont to Charlestown, Somerville to the South End. The program includes classes in bookstores, libraries, schools, and private homes as well as classes in which for parents and caregivers to participate with their little ones — called ¡Mi Familia Y Yo!

Mara Ferrari-Peinl of Charlestown has been a long-time student of Shortell’s with her son, Lukas, 3, finds ABC Spanish in Motion to be one of the better programs for her son to keep up with his Spanish.

“I’m a native [speaker] so I’m very picky,” said Ferrari-Peinl. “But this is a great program and you can tell there is a lot of thought behind each activity.”

It’s easy to see how Shortell’s dedication to her class is contagious. Shortell and her instructors are just as animated as their young students as they sing and dance, encouraging the children to join in and repeat the Spanish vocabulary.

Parents and nannies who attend the classes with their young children are taken by the enthusiasm of Shortell’s teaching methods. Fabiana Betolani, a Back Bay resident and mother of long-time student Francesca Choquette, 5, is awed by Shortell’s ability to write her own songs and record her own music.

“She puts so much into her classes, you can tell just by watching how much she loves it,” said Bertolani.

“Music is something that really catches children’s attention,” said Shortell. “It’s the best way to reinforce learning, I think, and it’s fun.”

Shortell is a native Venezuelan who has a background in Education from La Universidad Catolica in Venezuela and a master’s degree in Intercultural Service Leadership and Management from the School of International Tremont in Vermont. She not only loves working with children and teaching but has a passion for curriculum design.

“There are theories like Total Physical Response, which is what we use to teach children through mimics. Everything I say is followed by an action,” she said. “The movement is important because we want them to feel like they are playing. That’s how children learn. If they feel like they are in school and they are sitting, you don’t get much from them.”

The education the children receive from this course is equally as important as having fun. “Transmitting cultural knowledge is a fundamental piece of this language program. There are many more songs in which we teach and learn about exotic and endangered animals,” Shortell said.

This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and Emerson College.

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