BuildHouse

by Wendy V. Ash

I enter a class and write on the board:

Spanish Teacher
Interpreter
Dictionary

I needed to take a moment in class to define each of the terms listed above because I have so many students ask me daily “How to you say (insert word) in Spanish?”. I have been asked how to say “dolphin”, “blink”, “root beer”, even “Cheez-It®”, and silly idioms that would never translate literally. I will never deny a child a translation if I am asked, but it is important for me to have the students, and teachers, understand our method and how we apply it.

I begin with “Spanish Teacher” and ask “Can everybody that SPEAKS Spanish be a Spanish teacher?”. Of course not. If that were the case, we would all be English teachers. There is a reason WHY teachers can teach, and it doesn’t always come down to a degree, especially when teaching a second language. I could come in and speak nothing but Spanish for an hour to the class, and I doubt they would retain very little of it, if any at all. I could also drill vocabulary for every animal in a zoo, but if you aren’t a zookeeper, it would be of little value in every day life.

I move on to the word “Interpreter”. I state that myself, and my teachers are NOT interpreters. I explain what an interpreter is and the skill you would need to acquire to become one. Could myself and my teachers become interpreters if we chose to do so? Absolutely. It would simply be a matter of time, dedication, practice and passing tests, but the foundation would be there to build upon.

Lastly I talk about the word “Dictionary”. We are not walking dictionaries. We do not know every word in the dictionary, just like every English speaker does not know every word in the English dictionary. I then get a dictionary and ask the class what percentage of that dictionary do they believe we use on a daily basis with our friends, families, and teachers in conversation. The answer might surprise you. Their common answer is usually 50% and then they incrementally go down in number as the guessing continues.

The answer, that I was told, is approximately 6%.

We then hold a sliver of pages up to demonstrate that 6%. This is the Spanish they need to learn to be understood and this small fraction is where their efforts should be focused initially. There will be plenty of time to add on conjugation and vocabulary lists in their secondary education. For the time being, they need to be understood and have basic needs met when they are in a Spanish country or encounter a native speaker. They also should be able to enunciate in a proper accent to be easily understood.

One of my teachers had an excellent visual and created a “teachable moment” from this. She grabbed some popsicle sticks in a nearby cup and started building a log cabin style house. While she was building it, she was pointing out how necessary the foundation is before building any kind of house. All houses start with a strong foundation, then the aesthetics and additions are added on to the structure.

Start with a solid foundation in Spanish by speaking and learning the high frequency vocabulary you need to be understood, and then you can build your own future in Spanish whether that be a Spanish teacher, interpreter… or even a walking dictionary.

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