Though New Yorkers have been used to living side by side with people who speak languages other than English, bi-lingual education is becoming more prominent through out the United States in general. By offering bi-lingual programs in yoga for kids, we are able to reach even more students and possibly bring those who feel isolated into a greater community of understanding.
What’s so great about teaching yoga and other movement modalities is that we speak primarily in body language. So even if you can’t understand, “put your head to your knee in janusursana”, certainly watching a teacher do the pose is an easy way to begin to figure out “how to”.
So what are some of the options for including yoga in a bi-lingual setting?
- Give a class in English for non-English speakers (the primary form given in schools now).
- Give a class in English with the help of a translator.
- Give a class in the native language with English-only speakers welcome to join in.
In NYC schools, we often encounter students who speak Spanish or Mandarin amongst other foreign languages. The yoga teacher who only knows English must rely upon doing more experiential yoga and techniques rather than relying on lecturing and with kids’ yoga, that’s the best technique to use anyway. Keep them moving and stop talking!!
A yoga teacher at La Escuelita demonstrates the pose rather than just talking about it.
Of course, if the yoga teacher knows even a few words of the other primary language other than English, this is helpful in the role of managing classroom behavior and attention. Visual aids such as flash cards or an illustrated yoga book can also help you manage a class with children who are non-English speakers. Children are also very smart and can fool you too…there have been several instances where a child actually does understand what is going on and pretends not to (since perhaps their parents do not speak English at home) in order to play and get around the rules…it takes a very keen teacher to spot these students!
Though it would be great to have a bi-lingual teacher in these classrooms, it also becomes tricky as populations change somewhat rapidly; for instance, at a local East Village public school where Asana Alphabet teachers volunteer yoga, we have seen it go from a primarily Latin American population five years ago to now a 90% Mandarin speaking population.
At La Escuelita on the Upper West Side, children aged two to four are given class solely in Spanish to students who are both native Spanish speakers and native English speakers. Though some children may respond in English (and if needed the teacher may help them out with some English), most children readily take to the Spanish classes and in the oldest classroom, it seems that the majority of the children are bilingual from being placed in such an environment. All of the teachers at La Escuelita are fluent in both Spanish and English. Yoga en Espanol at La Escuelita over the past years has been an incredible experience. In this case, it is absolutely essential that the yoga teacher can speak Spanish in order to be in alignment with the school’s goals (learning enough Spanish to get by as a tourist in Cancun would not be enough). Just like many other young kids, the students at La Escuelita love learning about the animal yoga poses like el perro (dog pose), gato (cat), vaca (cow) y la cobra! Many of the stories and games you use in English are applicable to a yogic Spanish translation, but incorporating Spanish songs into the mix or looking at specific stories from Latin America is where that extra special touch may come in handy. This bi-lingual school has been quite successful since their opening in 2002.
At an Early Head Start Center on the Lower East Side, parents and kids aged 3 months to 2 years come in for “Parent and Child’ yoga classes with the majority of the parents (and sometimes grandparents) speaking Mandarin, though there are a few Spanish-speakers in the room. In this instance, the yoga teachers deliver simple instructions with lots of visual reinforcement in English and a Mandarin translator is provided. The translator is very helpful in communicating the benefits of some of the poses and techniques and giving the class in English even allows some of the adults to learn simple English words such as the numbers and letters of the alphabet as many of the adults are new to the United States. A yoga teacher in this type of classroom situation may take a few weeks to get the “rhythm” of using a translator and, as stated before, show many of the techniques instead of talking about them in detail (so parents do the yoga instead of listen and wait for translation). These are truly joyful classes as the parents are full of hope and encouragement towards their children and they truly participate with 100% effort. One way the yoga program is differentiated is also to take into account some of the special holidays they celebrate, like Chinese New Year. When the kids’ showed up wearing Rabbit Ears in honor of year of the rabbit, we sang the bunny hop and incorporated simple yoga poses into the song. This family program is extremely popular with a waiting list of over 300 families! Clearly there is a need and desire for these types of alternative physical education classes and family providers.
As an aside, being able to communicate through body language and spoken language also helps us bring teachings abroad, as you’ll see here in the small beach town of Puerto Cayo where an Asana Alphabet’s director shares a yoga game in Spanish.
And new to the Princeton, NJ area, we find Yoga in French at WildChildYoga.
Recent scholarships and work-study options have been given to trainees under Asana Alphabet’s yoga teacher training program in an effort to keep these programs alive.