The High Meadow Spanish program aims to foster community-wide appreciation for the Spanish language, the people who speak it, and the cultures from which they come.

In his Spanish classes with our pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, and 1st grade, world-renowned percussionist Roberto Juan Rodriguez has developed a multi-sensory approach that emphasizes the music of language and the role of the body as instrument.

“Music is sound. Language is sound,” Roberto points out. “I believe you learn language by memorizing the sounds. Once it’s in their system, once it’s by experience, then the rules come into play.”

Roberto was born in Cuba. He remembers, arriving in Miami as a child, the experience of learning English not from a book, but through daily life, and especially, through his pursuit of music. Learning this way provides authentic motivation, and removes some of the fear of getting something wrong.

“It’s not about learning a language, it’s about speaking the language, performing the language, expressing the language. They don’t need to know what it means,” Roberto says, to internalize the sound and feeling.

In the classroom, Roberto uses percussion instruments to connect language to rhythm, and bring young children into the joy of his native tongue. Through repetition and variation, he builds familiarity and skill memory.

“How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” he reminds us. “Practice, practice, practice.” The same approach applies to language instruction; immersion is key.

“They are ready,” he says, “they’ve always been ready. It’s just that we move too quickly through things. [Learning] grammar is like [learning] harmony and theory in music. It’s later. When they get older, [when] they don’t feel self-conscious, [when the language has become] part of a connection they have. Language is a way of life.”