Fall 2020/ NCHE interviews homeschool mom and Spanish tutor Pilar Johnson

NCHE: Pilar, you are a homeschooling mom and a Spanish tutor. You are married to Doug, and you have two children. Tell us a little more about yourself!

I was born in Mexico City. I am an industrial engineer. I met my husband on a business trip to North Carolina. It was love at first sight. We got married a year after we met. We have two children: Annie, fifteen years old, and Tommy, twelve years old. I have been a working mom since Annie was born, but I was laid off in 2018. I prayed really hard for guidance, and God directed me to homeschool my daughter.

NCHE: It must be so amazing for your children to grow up in a bi-lingual home! Did you speak Spanish to your children from the beginning?

Unfortunately, my husband does not speak Spanish, so we did not speak Spanish to our children at home. But I do have a very close relationship with my family in Mexico. My children grew up hearing me speak to them in Spanish.

NCHE: How did you begin tutoring Spanish outside of your home?

After my husband was laid off from work, I really wanted to continue homeschooling my daughter. I realized that I can teach Spanish to others as I have been teaching my daughter in high school. A friend suggested to me that I should offer my services to close friends.

NCHE: Do you think some Spanish curricula are better than others? Are there things you would encourage parents to look for (or avoid) when purchasing Spanish curriculum?

Yes absolutely. I started with one curriculum and changed it after a month after realizing it was not that great. I spent a lot of time at the Homeschool Gathering Place (local bookstore here in Raleigh) searching for the one that would be better for my daughter. Personally, we love “Realidades.” It has a lot of exercises, and I believe that repetition is very important for a student.

NCHE: Do students have to practice their Spanish every day? How much time do they need to spend to be proficient?

It is important that they regularly listen to some Spanish. This could be through songs or watching Spanish movies, even with English subtitles, so they can get familiar with the language.

NCHE: How is learning conversational Spanish different from learning to read or write the language? Should one come first, or is it helpful to have both from the beginning?

That is why I like the curriculum I am using with my daughter. I suggest choosing a curriculum that has a combination of reading, writing, and speaking from the beginning. The brain starts to associate one with the other.

NCHE: Everyone says that to really learn a language, you need immersion in the culture. But living abroad for an extended period of time isn’t a realistic option for most families. Is this why conversing with a tutor is a great choice?

Yes. I have noticed that if you are with a tutor, you feel freer to try to read all the words aloud than if you are in a classroom setting, where you might be overly conscious of not pronouncing all the words right. I love seeing the students feeling free to try speaking the words to me!

NCHE: Do students who have learned some Spanish vocabulary words here and there from books and videos pick up conversational Spanish more quickly?

Yes. They do not think so, but the more familiar they are with the language, the easier it will be for them to learn more.

NCHE: Do some people pick up languages more easily than others? How can parents who are better at other subjects like math and science help students who are gifted at learning languages?

I think in general, younger people do pick up languages more easily. The younger you are exposed to another language, the easier it is for you to learn it. Parents can help students by making it fun! Whatever you are teaching, it helps if you find ways to make learning like playing rather than studying. Foreign language is no different.

NCHE: Let’s talk about verbs! How does a parent who doesn’t speak Spanish teach conjugations?

Start slowly without overloading them. Do a lot of repetition. Do not take too much too fast, so they can grasp the concepts.

NCHE: Roughly fourteen percent of the US speaks Spanish as their first language. It’s certainly more concentrated in some areas of our country than others, but do you think everyone should learn to speak at least a little Spanish even if they’re already taking Latin, Greek, or another language as their main foreign language components?

Yes! Spanish is the fourth most common language in the world! Around 527 million people speak Spanish! Spanish is one of the best languages to know when you travel. To learn a language is to have a whole new world in front of you in terms of music, movies, art, and culture. Not to mention learning will keep your mind sharp.

NCHE: What is the advice that you find yourself most often giving to people about learning a foreign language?

Have fun! Do not be afraid to practice when you encounter someone that speaks the language. Even if you have to say some English words in between, practice makes progress.

Pilar Johnson is a personal Spanish tutor in the Raleigh area. Connect with her at pilar68@juno.com

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