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Crystal Lake-based program helps kids learn second language

Giada Lipkie, 4, of Crystal Lake listens to Mauricio Villamizar as he teaches Spanish on June 26 during a foreign language immersion class organized by Language Stars at St. Paul United Church of Christ in Crystal Lake.
Giada Lipkie, 4, of Crystal Lake listens to Mauricio Villamizar as he teaches Spanish on June 26 during a foreign language immersion class organized by Language Stars at St. Paul United Church of Christ in Crystal Lake.

CRYSTAL LAKE – It was too late when Ilene Lubell realized she probably had peaked by 10 years old.

Lubell, like many, attempted to learn a second language in high school but found it difficult to retain what she learned and never became fluent in French. But she was not surprised her 17-year-old son has learned three languages – starting with French when he was 3 years old, Spanish in elementary school and now Latin.

“The absolute best time to learn a language is between birth and 10 years old,” said Lubell, spokeswoman for Language Stars. “At that age, they’re just hearing sounds and learning exactly like a first language. There is no rote memorization. None of that exists.”

Language Stars, a program dedicated to cultivating a multilingual generation, is one of many language learning programs aimed at reaching children before their teenage years.

Crystal Lake resident Cheryl Lipkie enrolled her two young children in the Spanish program to give them an opportunity to gain valuable professional and social skills. Lipkie, who also took Spanish, said the program is a much more effective way to learn a language because it is primarily taught through games, activities, songs and other interactions.

She said it also is helpful that she can participate in the class with her children.

“You can’t learn a language from just reading a book,” she said. “And when you are younger, you are a little less inhibited by the idea of making mistakes and more likely to participate.”

Mauricio Villamizar, a Spanish teacher for the Crystal Lake-based Language Stars, said in his home country of Colombia and many nations outside of the United States, a second language is required in school.

By the time he came to the United States in 2007, Villamizar already had the foundation to become fluent and proficient within months because of the immersion. He tries to mimic that immersion strategy in his classroom by speaking Spanish even when students may not understand it.

“Just repetition and hearing the words I use in context with what I am doing helps them understand,” Villamizar said. “That’s what I love about my job. You can see the kids start to absorb it naturally.”

Lubell said there has been a major increase over the past decade in parents interested in involving their children in language studies at an early age. Language Stars has expanded from Chicago to 14 satellite locations including Crystal Lake.

Speaking a second language, Lubell said, has become as much of a social necessity as a professional one.

“I think bilingualism will be natural for everyone eventually,” she said. “It’s become such an important part of everyday life.”

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