WARRENTON - Katie Corliss' gaze is intent upon her teacher Serina Olson's mouth. She sits cross-legged as Serina speaks sentences in Spanish.

"El lapiz esta en la silla," Olson says.

For a moment, Katie squints and tilts her head as if trying to peek at the phrase, which is shrouded by another language.

Then, as if automatic, the words flutter out: "The pencil is on the chair."

Katie is not the "amazing translation machine" as seen on TV. She is 6, has just finished "Tindergarken" and has been taking a Spanish classes for two years at Coryell's Crossing, a preschool and child care center in Warrenton.

This year, after kindergarten at Warrenton Grade School, Katie was one of seven children who attended "Miss Serina" Olson's 45-minute, second-year Spanish classes each day.

Next year, Coryell's director Edie Howard says the Spanish program will be expanded

LORI ASSA - The Daily Astorian

In her second year of Spanish classes, Katie Corliss, 6, recites phrases in Spanish with her teacher Serina Olson.to a third year if there is enough parent interest.

Olson also taught a first-year class for about 35 children this year. She's been teaching Spanish at Coryell's for about six years, but this is the first year the preschool has offered a second year of Spanish.

"I love watching them learn things," says Olson, who has been a preschool teacher at Coryell's for seven years.

This year, she brought two Spanish-speaking exchange students into her class and asked them to speak with the children. "They told me, 'You are teaching what the high school kids are learning. These kids know more Spanish than the high school kids.'"

Olson says there's no great secret to her classes. She applies traditional teaching techniques of repetition and routine and finds the children respond. Olson says she teaches the children words for greetings, days, months, numbers, shapes, colors and food. She also teaches them songs, proverbs and the U.S. pledge of allegiance in Spanish.

The children become so accustomed to the routine that: "They help me out if I have a mind block," Olson says.

Although Olson's Spanish classes are on break for the summer, Katie can still remember phrases and the words for colors with a little prompting.

"Rojo is for red, azul is for blue, amarillo is for yellow," Katie recites as she breezes through laminated flash cards in the shape of crayons.

Her parents, Suzanne and Jeff Corliss, have often had their 6-year-old teach them the lesson.

When she is talking about a color with Katie, Suzanne Corliss says: "She'll tell us how to say it in Spanish ... Neither Jeff or I speak Spanish."

Olson gives the children homework - phrases to practice at home. She says parents have often come to her amazed because they don't understand what their child is saying.

Another mother, Caroline Sproul says her daughter Kaitlin, in the second-year class, particularly enjoyed repeating the command phrases she learned like: "Don't do it."

"She would use those on her brother," Sproul says.

LORI ASSA - The Daily Astorian

Lange, Smylie, and Pineda sing their numbers, from 10 to 100 by tens to the tune of "Macarena," while they dance the Macarena.

"Sometimes, I would have to stop and think for a minute before I could understand what she said."

Although, Sproul says her father and her best friend spoke Spanish fluently, she only formally learned the language in junior high.

Sproul says her daughter Kaitlin tells her about Spanish conversations she overhears on the street or in the grocery store.

"Mamma, they're talking about their dog," Sproul had her daughter Kaitlin, 6, explain once. "Sometimes she says it too loud, so I have to say, 'Yes, yes, but we have to be quiet.'"

Olson says she originally had the idea to teach Spanish to children after her daughter, who was in Sproul's fourth-grade class, brought home a Spanish vocabulary worksheet.

Olson had taken Spanish when she was a student at Astoria High School, but has taken college courses to refresh her skills.

Sproul, who has taught at Warrenton schools for 13 years, says she recognizes the importance of teaching children languages at a young age.

"The sooner a child can learn a different language, the more they'll retain and the better they'll do the next time they have to learn it, which is in junior high," she says.

Sproul says she would like to see the language experience continue throughout her daughter's schooling, but for now she is only hoping for a third-year program at Coryell's. Her daughter also learns the language with books and tapes.

Noam Chomsky, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor, hypothesized in the 1950s that, from birth, children understand fundamental rules common to all languages and can apply the rules to the speech they hear, without awareness of the underlying logic. For instance, a child can create a phrase like "The cup is on the table" without knowing the grammatical rules of subjects, verbs and objects.

New research has revealed if children are heavily exposed to a language by the age of 7 they will be able to speak it fluently, Sproul says. But as children grow older it's more difficult to learn a new language, she says.

"My daughter's been learning it since the age of 4," she says.

While Sproul and Corliss both admit their children aren't fluent, they both say they appreciate the effort to teach the language at a young age. Sproul says she believes the class will help when the children eventually have to take a test to pass the requirement for the Certificate of Initial Mastery in 10th grade.

"I'm really impressed with the class Miss Serina has taught," Sproul says. "I believe the sooner you can expose the kids to a foreign language, the better they'll do - the more successful they'll be."

For more information about the Spanish classes, call Coryell's Crossing at 861-0281.

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