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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