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Sarasota Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021 3 months ago

Sarasota couple's Spanish language focus on action

Emphasis on verbs is the fastest way to learn, developer says.
by: Andréa Martone A+E Contributor

A creative Sarasota husband-and-wife team has launched a set of Spanish verb flash cards in the hopes that parents and teachers will use them as tools to help students learn the language. 

Spanish is now the most studied language other than English in the United States.  Colombian-American Sandra Marquez Stathis and her husband, Tom, developed the set of 98 color-coded verbs, including 10 “Power Verbs” that they say will help jump start kids ages 5+ to become bilingual.

The new venture is called Monkey Wonder, and the name was spawned from a cherished stuffed “Curious George” toy was Sandra’s travel companion as a child. “I have always loved monkeys,” she said.

Monkey Wonder flash cards feature Oliver the Monkey, an engaging and artfully designed character who train and Latin America to showcase heritage, landmarks and culture. The cards are sold on Amazon for $18.95.

Growing up, she spent four years living in Saudi Arabia, where her father worked as an engineer, giving her the opportunity to see the world as a young child. Upon graduating from college, she lived in Haiti for four years, where she worked as a human rights observer and journalist. She speaks multiple languages: English, French, Spanish and Haitian Creole. “I have seen first-hand how languages open doors and create connection,” said Sandra, who has been teaching her two children how to speak Spanish.

Sandra and Tom, a senior photo editor who worked with the Associated Press in New York, California and Arizona before retiring to Sarasota in 2016, created the cards, which feature Oliver the Monkey, an engaging and artfully designed character who travels throughout Spain and Latin America to showcase heritage, landmarks and culture.

The couple say the focus on verbs is what sets Monkey Wonder apart. “Too often, children in traditional elementary school Spanish programs spend years learning nouns and adjectives. They can walk around a room and point to things and name them; silla (chair), lápiz (pencil), pelota roja (red ball) -- but they struggle to form a sentence,” Sandra said.

Monkey Wonder flash cards will help even the youngest learners tap into the power of verbs. The 98 card set is color-coded into four categories: Power Verbs, AR verbs, ER verbs and IR verbs. At the top of the pack are the 10 Power Verbs, among the most essential in Spanish, including the Spanish verbs for “to be,” “to have,” and “to go.”

“Just learning the 10 power verbs will put a child so far ahead in their Spanish language ability,” Sandra said.

 By 2050, the United States is on track to become the largest Spanish-speaking country in the world, according to the U.S. Census Office.  

Schools in 35 states now offer dual-language immersion programs. The trend is reflected in Sarasota, where the brand-new dual language charter school, Dreamers Academy, opens its doors this week. Spanish Legacy, operated by Spaniard Mara Jacobs on Proctor Road, offers a full Spanish-immersion preschool with K-12 summer camps and exchange programs. 

The Stathis’ 13-year-old son,  Alexander,  even contributed two verbs to the set.

“One day, he said: Mom, do you have jugar (to play) and pescar (to fish)?” Sandra recalls. She checked her spreadsheet and saw that those two verbs had not yet been included. “It made me so happy that he was adding words that kids needed for their lives.”


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