Archives for the month of: March, 2015

child's written spanish words on paper

by Wendy V. Ash

It almost never fails. I will walk into one of my older grades to begin Spanish class. As I’m reciting words and phrases for them to repeat, I will hear “How do you spell that?”. I look out in the class to see the more studious students, pen in hand ready to anxiously write down a list of these words.

I reply “How do you THINK you spell it? THAT’S the way I want you to spell it”. Now, please do not misunderstand, I would never promote misspelling a word unless there were a valuable point to it. The valuable point being: Write It Right. Read It Wrong.

I often tell my students how they need to fight their “English Brain”. What I mean by that is as a non-native speaker, when anybody comes upon a Spanish word they go to their library of English phonetics to try and pronounce a Spanish word. This is a result of not physically speaking the words until they become second nature. Unfortunately, when learning a second language, the older we are, the more hard-wired we become to do this. I tell my older students they have quite the uphill battle and must try that much more.

This is why I incorporate my bilingual books in the very last lesson of a unit. Students have repeatedly heard how the words sound, so when they read them in context, they read them with their “Spanish Brain”. I will line them up in the front of the class and have them each read a page. While I don’t traditionally “test”, this is one of my many oral assessments I do to gauge a child’s progress. I carefully listen and watch as they approach a word that we covered in our unit. It’s always a wonderful thing to see them pronounce it flawlessly. It’s also a wondrous thing to see their look of discovery as they lay their eyes for the first time on a word they have been saying for weeks. Lastly, it is wonderful to see that each student is reading Spanish to their class, which is difficult enough to do in their native language. They learn to embrace their mistakes and I make sure they don’t apologize for having made a mistake.

My new rule is to have the students, if they must write, write the phonetic pronunciation followed by the correct spelling. As controversial as this might seem to some, this is what we did as small children with our native language (though you may not remember). Yet, somehow we managed to turn out okay and go on to write it, read it, and speak it right.

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Motorcyle Pic

by Wendy V. Ash

I like to characterize the purpose of my program is to concentrate on mastering familiarity of Spanish before concentrating on formality. It’s the only way, and the easiest way, to get up to speed with a second language.

It’s a little known fact amongst my students that I ride a motorcycle on the track (refer to photo) with N2 Track Days. One day, I began to think back to when I first started to learn to ride. I was so fixated on the controls, what they did and how they did it. I was so immersed on how they function, and reasonably so, that I couldn’t really enjoy the actual ride. Over time, as I became more comfortable with the mechanics of the motorcycle and it became second nature, that is when I could begin to enjoy and concentrate on other things. Those other things were higher echelons of the learning process such as speed, proper entry into a turn, or passing.

I was in my car while I was pondering this and then realized, it is the same while driving a car. When we were first driving, we had sweaty palms while the driving instructor directed us how to drive in a car clearly labeled to let others know we were an accident waiting to happen. Now that we have mastered driving, we really do not think much about what we are actually doing. Do you remember putting the keys in your car this morning? Putting it into gear? Can you recall, without moving your feet or imagining you are in your car, which is the brake and which is the gas? Most likely you cannot if you are a seasoned driver. It has become instinctual and second nature for many of us.

I decided to do an experiment while I was in my car and I invite you to try it yourself. I found if I consciously thought of what I was physically doing to control the car, I drove worse, than instead of letting it occur naturally in my psyche. This notion can be applied to many things: a motorcycle, a car, a bicycle, a unicycle and YES…
learning a second language
.

In the race to become proficient in a language, familiarity is crucial. How it sounds, how it feels when it is spoken, and its “music” are essential components to achieve this goal. Only then, can we learn to be formal and move on to spelling, conjugation, and sentence structure. After all, it is how we learned our first language. When we were learning to talk, we did not carry around flash cards that had “milk” “hungry” “diaper” that we would read to our parents and knew they were nouns. We became familiar with the language, and then comfortable with speaking it to have our needs met.

You might wonder how this relates to my teaching methods. I have witnessed first-hand students who have said words many times and have started to become familiar with them. Then they decide to start asking how it is spelled, or why is there an “o” at the end and sometimes an “a”, or why how what is described comes afterwards. The minute I start answering and explaining those questions, which involve the principles of grammar, masculine and feminine, and adjectives… is the moment that they begin thinking too hard and it will stymie their ability to be comfortable with the language. All I tell them, with many eyebrow raises from the scrutinizing teacher, is “It just IS, and you will learn what is right from hearing, speaking, and practicing it”. I also point out there is plenty of time to learn the formality of Spanish later, but let’s concentrate on the roots of speaking Spanish now.

Familiarity over Formality. It is a debate I contend with often and a fight I am winning a mile a minute, just like I hope my students learn to speak one day.

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