This question has been suggested a couple of times on #langchat: How do you maintain your personal proficiency? Someone asked me this same question at a PD session I was at last year, adding that she only teaches novice learners and so she feels like she’s only speaking novice language for practice. Then I recently got an email asking the same thing. Although the question has come in a close second both times it’s been polled for #langchat, clearly it’s on many teachers’ minds. And so the moderators decided it should be an early topic coming back after our July break.
Using the target language in the classroom is so critical, and one of the main reasons teachers don’t do it is a lack of confidence in their own proficiency. Keeping up and maintaining your own proficiency is a challenge but definitely worth working at. Here are the ways I work on my own (if you teach a different language, you can see how many are easily adaptable to your language):
- Make it easy for Spanish to get to you. Create a Pandora station with artists you like (there’s a link to mine in the footer of my blog under “favorite resources”). Change your Facebook, iPod, cell phone, etc. to Spanish. Change Google News to “Estados Unidos” instead of US edition.
- Make a point of reading or watching something in Spanish every day. Watch interesting clips on Univision, or check out what’s available on Hulu’s Latino section. Listening to Radio Naciones Unidas podcast (top right) will really push you.
- Incorporate Spanish into your hobbies. Personally, I don’t usually read fiction unless it’s in Spanish. I like Isabel Allende (Zorro and Ines del alma mía are fantastic). After the beginning levels, almost all your new vocabulary will come from reading in context. I know through our library I can request a lot of books in Spanish, like Los juegos del hambre. Other recent reads I recommend are No hay silencio que no termine and a different perspective, Cautiva.
- Pick up a monolingual Spanish dictionary. At this stage you can get away from translation, and it will help you pick up on the nuances of differences between similar words. Voxx has several good ones for good prices on Amazon. (You can also access the dictionary definitions at wordreference.com.)
- Make a notecard with words you’re working on now. If you catch a word in a song that you don’t know, or look at something in your house and think, I have no idea how to say that, write it on the card and review them periodically. Intentionally try to use them once a day until you don’t have to think about them. One of the words I’m working on lately is ‘handle.’ I only speak Spanish to my girls and I’m having trouble getting the different ways to talk about handles. The one that drains the bathtub. Doorknobs. Faucet. Grocery bag. What are the handles called?? Aaack!
- See if you can get someone to have a regular “Spanish date” with you. It’s amazing how much I’ve improved since I started the bilingual baby adventure and so I just regularly have to speak in Spanish. A native speaker would be best, but it will be super helpful to have a regular time to get together with anyone who speaks Spanish and practice, just talking about life in general. This will also help you not get into just having classroom vocabulary.
- Take the opportunity when it arises. A couple of weeks ago I met a woman at the park. She’s Salvadoran and her husband is Cuban, and they have two little girls, around the same age as mine. We struck up a conversation, exchanged phone numbers, and now I hope to have our girls play together while we get a chance to chat.
How do you maintain your personal proficiency? Let me know here and share with us on the August 9 #langchat, 8 p.m. Eastern, 5 Pacific.
Photo credit: Alejandro Matos