Thursday, June 16, 2011

From There to Here

Learning Spanish in college was one thing. Using Spanish is another. And I haven't done much of it. Yesterday I had the opportunity to finally use my Spanish in the real world. I conducted an interview of an employee who, although he spoke some English, was much more comfortable with Spanish. He was the country director in Honduras.

I did the interview in Spanish. My speaking was relatively O.K. but actually understanding what he said, even after listening to sentences over and over again on the tape recorder, I cannot tell what he was saying. It isn't that I don't understand the word's meaning. I can't even tell what the word is.

After the interview he asked me where I learned Spanish. I don't know whether that was a compliment or an insult. It could have been either. But I found out there is some stuff they can't teach you in school. Understanding is one of them. In the classroom, there are opportunities to speak in English. The only way to really understand it is to be immersed in it, to go to a place where everyone around you speaks the language all day and there are no opportunities (or few) to speak English or listen to English.

That is what I hope to do in Spain. I hope to be able to not only learn to speak better Spanish, but to be able to UNDERSTAND when people speak in Spanish. I might get 10 percent. of a conversation with a native Spanish Speaker right now. It would be nice to even understand 50-75 percent.

That being said, I think some improvements could be made in the clasroom.
1) The students are in a Spanish class. Speak Spanish. Deduct points for any English Speaking during the classtime.

2) Classes should be more lecture. General education (and non-language major classes) are taught in English with a teacher at the front of the room talking for an hour. There should be more Spanish classes taught like this, forcing students to take notes. Tests should not necesarily be comprehension as much as using the same words to see that students are able to understand what they are hearing, not necesarilly the meaning of the words.

3) There should be classes where students simply watch movies in Spanish (without subtitles) and listen to radio programs and possibly speak or write about them.

4) In elementary, when we learn English we had about 10 spelling words each week. We had different exercises such as copying each word 5 times and writing the definitions. This might work in Spanish as well to help teach vocabulary.

Learning vocabulary seems to be the main focus of schools. But that is only part of the way. If you don't understand what you hear, it is hard to respond, even if you know vocabulary words.

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