• The Star Staff

What if remote learning slows them down?


By Giulia McDonell Nieto Del Rio


Remote learning is difficult enough — now add a language barrier. Like so many other parents, Bianca Barragán of San Antonio has taken on an additional role during the pandemic: She is essentially a teacher for her children, 4-year-old Sofia and 6-year-old Santiago, who are enrolled in a bilingual program but studying from home. She and her husband, Gabriel Chavez, came to the United States from Mexico seven years ago, and the family speaks Spanish at home.


She is still learning English, as are her children, which makes remote learning more complicated. Midway through the school year, she worries about the extent to which her children may have fallen behind. (This interview was conducted in Spanish and translated into English.)


“My daughter is the younger one. For her, everything is new. But if I compare it with my son, when he was learning in-person at the same age as her, I feel like he was learning so much more.


“We all speak Spanish at home — it’s the first language for both of my children. The school is bilingual, so a lot of the learning right now is in Spanish, too.


“But with remote learning, my kids are doing less English reading and having much less contact with their friends — most of whom speak English — so they’re missing that socialization. I feel like they may not be learning as much English as they would have been and forgetting some words in English. In person, there was more opportunity to read books in English, to hear word pronunciation and to recognize new words in English. Hopefully they’ll pick it back up quickly.


“Remotely, their learning in general worries me, especially as I watch my daughter pick up things rather slowly from home.


“With English on my end, it hasn’t yet been too complicated since both children are in younger grades. But there is definitely going to come a moment where I’m not going to be able to help them as much because of that communication barrier.


“I have some friends whose main language is English, but they speak Spanish too. So we support each other. When I have doubts about understanding something, or if I’m not sure how to do something, or I don’t know what something means, I ask them and they help me.

So I find support with the other moms, and of course with Google and YouTube videos.


“There are occasions when my 6-year-old son will correct us on English pronunciation or things like that. He’s the one who will tell us how we should say something. Sometimes, he has to do projects in English, and in those situations it gets a little harder for both of us.


“And remotely, he’s having some trouble with writing in English, since he only speaks it. He still has a lot of spelling errors or doubts about how to say certain words.


“I think that for learning in both languages, it’s clear that in-person is much better.


“At the beginning of remote learning, I was more frustrated while I was trying to figure out how to navigate it. Now, since half of the school year has passed, I think we definitely have a better working dynamic.


“But it’s tiring because you have to carry out many different roles at home. It’s not just being a mother — you also have to be the teacher in a sense, take care of things around the house and be aware that it’s harder for your kids to learn remotely. I feel like my daughter would have advanced so much more if she had learned in person.


w“Regardless, I think you just adapt to the situation. You have no other choice but to adapt.”

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