There are a lot of problems with current world language teaching in the U.S. I think the biggest problem is that we’re trying to teach it the way we teach everything else, when language used for communication is not learned or stored the way other subjects are, and the answer is to look back at the way this happened the first time. Don’t agree? That’s okay. But I’m looking back at 100 years of failed language teaching in the U.S. and at a profession full of teachers who don’t believe in what they do – because if you ask a language teacher where to learn to speak a language, they won’t tell you to take a class. They’ll tell you to put yourself in an immersion situation. We know that immersion is the only thing that works, but we won’t do it in class. Why? Lots of reasons. We’re not trained. Students are conditioned to think school should happen a certain way and when it doesn’t, they revolt. Our expectations are too high. Our assessments are completely invalid.
And the biggest complaint I hear is this: we don’t have the time. Young children are flooded with massive amounts of input from the moment they’re born, and we have them for mere minutes a day. What about that?
One answer is that the minutes we have them add up over years to a whole lot of time, so one solution is to figure out how to motivate students to continue into advanced levels of language learning. Another solution is to impress upon students that if they’re really going to succeed, they can’t rely on language class to keep this up. At some point, they have to take ownership of this language journey in their own lives and not let it be just something a teacher is making them do, because if that’s all it is, they won’t keep learning after they leave us, and it will be a waste of time. One way I’ve tried to do this is to assign my students to do a “fluency activity.” Once a week, my fourth-year students have to do something outside of class to show me that they can find ways to interact in the language. They have to tell me on a card 1) what they did 2) one thing they learned and 3) what they need to improve on. @SraSpanglish asked me to publish the options I give them, so here they are. Keep in mind that I teach in a private faith-based school, so several of these options are faith-related. One premise there is that the vocabulary used will be very familiar to my students, which primes their brains for higher comprehension. You might have other ideas for how to do that also – please share them in comments!
- Listen to Spanish-language radio for one hour (music) or 30 minutes (talk).
- Watch television in Spanish for 30 minutes.
- Change your facebook language to Spanish and play on Facebook for an hour.
- Read a Spanish-language newspaper for 30 minutes (may be online).
- Play on one or more corporate Spanish-language websites for 45 minutes.
- Read a book in Spanish for 30 minutes (may get one from Sra. Cottrell, may not be Ciudad de las bestias)
- Read 3 familiar chapters of the Bible in Spanish.
- Change your cell phone or mp3 player’s language to Spanish for an entire week.
- Read the directions in Spanish of four items in your house (e.g. detergent).
- Read the last 50 tweets using a Twitter hashtag for a Latin-American country or city.
- Read the last 30 Spanish-language tweets by one or more Spanish-speaking artists or politicians on Twitter
- Read an article about a famous Latino musician or politician in Spanish on Wikipedia.
- Watch 3 videoclips on sports and 3 videoclips on current news on Univision.com.
- Compile a list of 30 words involving the profession you hope to have, on 3×5 cards for your review.
- Explore the Spanish-language section of a bookstore (music, kids’ books, and/or adult books) for 30 minutes and find two things you would like to own.
- Listen to a sermon (at least 20 minutes) in Spanish (see oneplace.com).
- Conversar (o ‘chatear’) en español con alguien por 30 minutos
- Asistir a un Spanish Group
- Asistir el servicio de una iglesia
- Find a recipe on a site like Mi Cocina Latina or Qué Rica Vida and prepare it.
- Listen to at least 5 clips at least B1 or higher on Audio Lingua.
- Watch at least 5 clips Intermediate B or higher from UT proficiency site.
- Play around on the iTunes Latino store and find 2 albums or 5 songs you would like to own.