Have you ever had a language class in high school? If yes, what do you remember? More importantly, can you actually communicate with others or carry on a conversation beyond the basic, "Hola, cómo estás?" Would you feel comfortable and confident being in a foreign country where that language is predominantly spoken? Unfortunately, more often than not the answer to these questions tends to be no. So, what happened during all of those years spent studying the language? Is it a coincidence that so many people can't actually communicate after having countless years of a language class? Do effective language classes just prepare students to understand the basics of a language? Is it impossible to actually speak the language by only studying the language in your high school career. Absolutely not - continue reading!
In my language classroom, students are "immersed" in the Spanish language for approximately 90% of each class period. Regardless of whether students are in Spanish 1 or Spanish 5, they are constantly involved with interactions of the language - comprehending, analyzing, interpreting, processing, and producing the Spanish language with their peers, with me, and even with native speakers on occasions. My main focus is to increase each student's ability to communicate in real-world contexts, showing them how the language is used on a daily basis for a meaningful purpose. The only true way to do develop these skills is a classroom that is focused on proficiency and communication.
How is it possible to communicate almost completely in the Spanish language during each class period, regardless of the students' level/experience with the language? The answer is simple - the effective language teacher is able to match the level of his/her language to the students' level with the help of many resources. That is, the teacher makes use of visuals, symbols, pictures, gestures, facial expressions, power point presentations, photographs, maps, videos, flashcards, chalkboard drawings, acting out words, and many more techniques. In other words, the teacher DOES NOT just stand in front of the class while speaking Spanish. The classroom game "Survivor," or as students know it, "Sobrevivientes," has been designed and adapted to make sure that all of my students are actively trying to negotiate meaning with the Spanish language. Put simply, students who are awake and engaged will understand and will have success with the Spanish language!
**Please visit my "Survivor" page to find more information about how students are able to have success through the sole use of the Spanish language**
Why are you doing this?
1. Avoiding Grammar-Translation: The Traditional Spanish Classroom
Remember your answer to the first question at the top of this page? The reason you answered "no" can be found in this section - you learned Spanish in a traditional, outdated language classroom. In the traditional/typical Spanish classroom, students conjugate verbs, memorize endless lists of boring vocabulary, use English to master grammatical concepts, and then take tests on these non-communicative skills at some point throughout the process. This is the atmosphere that most expect to encounter in the language classroom, mainly because this is how they were taught and, thus, think that this must be how one learns another language.
This idea of teaching a second language stems from a methodology called "grammar-translation," which was developed CENTURIES AGO to teach "dead" languages - i.e. Ancient Greek and Latin. As the name implies, there was a strong focus on studying grammar rules and using translation. Essentially, the method was developed to read ancient texts and to understand the origins of modern grammar rules, while also considering the influences that ancient Greek and Latin had on them. Pretty boring, right? Most importantly, there was NO FOCUS on developing communication skills with the language.
In one form or another, the grammar-translation method is (unfortunately) still the dominant idea/belief of "effective" language learning and teaching. If you answered "yes" to the question at the beginning of this page, it is likely that your time spent studying another language involved some form of the grammar-translation method. Why is this still dominant? Simply, it is hard to break away from the normalcy of "the way we've always done it." Others state that "That's the way I learned, so... it is what we have to do." If you want to be able to speak the language and develop your comprehension skills, then the out-dated grammar-translation method (or similar methods) are not for you!
2. Communicative Language Teaching - The 21st Century Classroom
Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) is the complete opposite of the grammar-translation method in the foreign language classroom. Its name is appropriate, as this type of language teaching holds communication at its core. This teaching style was developed after research was conducted to show that the traditional language classroom was not working and was not producing any real communicative proficiency of the language learners. Remember that the original idea (that is still commonly accepted today) is that communication in a second language can be learned/taught by studying, practicing, and drilling with grammatical structures. Basically, it was thought that these habits eventually are practiced enough to produce real communication. Research shows the complete opposite! CLT focuses on the following research findings: communicative language ability (expression and comprehension of others) develops as language learners engage in communication, NOT habit formation with grammatical items!
It can and should be concluded, then, that it is essential to have every opportunity possible to react with the Spanish language on a daily basis - hence the simulated-immersion classroom atmosphere!
**In progress. Last updated on May 20th, 2015.**