My Philosophy of Teaching Spanish

                          Image result for communication


 Consider this:
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 that were spent studying the language? Is it a coincidence that so many people cannot actually communicate in a foreign language after taking upwards of four years during their high school experience?  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! 

 What's the problem? - The Traditional Classroom:
Remember your answer to the first question at the top of this page?  The reason you answered "no" is LIKELY because you studied Spanish in a traditional, outdated language classroom.  In the traditional/typical Spanish classroom, students conjugate verbs, fill in lines with verbs that have no context, memorize endless lists of boring. useless 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 because that WAS NOT THE POINT of those classes.

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 "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!

 Solution - The 21st Century Foreign Language 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! Therefore, students must have every opportunity possible to engage with and interact in the target language and culture on a daily basis. 

 The Simulated-Immersion Classroom:
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 that are appropriate to their respective level of proficiency - 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, communication, and cultural competence. 

 How Can this Be Done?:
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?  Think of it this way: how were we able to learn and speak our native language?  Nobody gave us a book and made us memorize vocabulary and grammar while conjugating verbs.  Instead, something else much more beneficial happened... 

 

 

An effective language teacher uses multiple resources in conjunction with the foreign language that is tailored to the respective level of the course being taught. For example, the teacher may be speaking to students about days of the week while referring to a calendar that is projected onto a screen.  In this way, the teacher can speak the language, point to the days, and involve students in the discussion with topics such as holidays, birthdays, ages of different people, weekdays versus weekends, and so forth.  Students could then use their new knowledge and interview other students about their birthdays, their age, their name, and so forth.  

Therefore, the teacher makes use of visual resources (pictures and photographs, maps, videos, PowerPoint presentations, etc.) along with gestures, facial expressions, blackboard drawings, acting out words, and many other acquired techniques.  Once again this is very similar to how we learned our native language through interactions with our family members.

One Final Thought:

The teacher DOES NOT just stand in front of the class, start speaking Spanish, and expect students to make any progress with their own abilities.  A large degree of effort is required on the teacher's part to design units, lessons, and subsequent activities that allow for this type of environment to occur in the classroom.  The teacher can no longer simply hand students packets of information with exercises to complete.


ACTFL - 5 C's