Spanish Blog


More than words

 

What would you think if you see me doing the gesture of pointing my finger to the temple and moving it in circles?

For me, it’s clear that I want to express someone is crazy, but if I were in the north of Europe I could be in trouble since it’s considered very offensive and even penalized by law, or in Japan, same gesture means different things if the finger is moving forward (‘thinking’) or backwards (‘craziness’).

 

 

So, do you think is important to show this non-verbal language to the students of a language? Watch this video:

 

Probably you are able to follow the conversation even though you don’t have a great understanding of Spanish only by following the gestures. Well, here come the good news, we, Spanish, gesticulate a lot to the great help of the communication, some times to support the sentence, others used instead of the sentence, like in this case, which, believe me, is not so unusual to find in real life.

Gesticulate helps a lot, but this non-verbal language is universal? Pretty much, but not completely. Every language and every culture has its own code of gestures. Some of them are shared by other cultures, and others are only shared in the same group. Think about nod. For me, when you nod, you are saying yes, but in Bulgaria you would be saying no! So, if I’m learning Bulgarian, I’d expect being taught that to understand the answer of a simple “yes/no” question.

As I pointed in earlier posts, learning a language and therefore teaching it implies teach and learn the culture, the behavioral patterns and the gestures, this non-verbal language that gives us so much information if we get it right, but that can put us in trouble if we misinterpret.

As a teacher, have you recourse to non-verbal activities to make the students interact and think about this underlying gestuality cultural code? What kind of activities you use in the classroom?

As a student, do you find interesting to learn about the culture, cultural behaviors and gestures typical in every language?


Why learn Spanish? Few reasons

I am a native Spanish speaker and I teach it as a foreign language. If I someone asked me, why learn Spanish or another language, I would have lots of reasons to cheer people up to learn a foreign language, whatever it is. But if I had to suggest a language to learn, the answer would be: first, English (for all the non English speakers) and second, Spanish (so if you are an English speaker, Spanish would be my first answer for you).

Learning a new language has a lot of benefits, as I said in a previous post, but I recently learnt that knowing and using two languages reduces the chances of developing dementia, including Alzheimer’s Disease. Moreover the scientists showed that bilingualism enhances mental abilities in both children and older adults. Besides studying languages can improve your memory and slow age-related decline in mental acuity. And studying another language makes you smarter: your critical thinking skills will be improved as you learn to view things through a different lens, and learning a second language stimulates creativity. 

After that I can’t but encourage you to learn another language for language’s sake and for your own benefit. Enroll now to whatever language appeals you!!!

However I can help you to pick a language. Spanish!!!

Yeah, according to Wikipedia, Spanish is the second language most spoken in the world with almost 400 million speakers,  it’s the fourth most commonly spoken language in the world (after English, Chinese and Hindustani) and it is an official language on four continents:

Primarily oficial language in Spain and 21 Latin America countries, is second oficial language in other countries, and is most spoken than the oficial language in Gibraltar (90%), Andorra (70%) and Belice (70%).
So the wide extension of the language brings us another reason: traveling. It is possible to visit the Latin American countries and Spain without speaking a word of Spanish but you would be missing one of the best parts of visiting a foreign country, the understanding the locals, their ways, that is to say, the fun and interesting part.In my humble opinion, learning Spanish opens up lots of opportunities to have more fun: movies, books, reading the menu in the restaurant, meet interesting people, travel… And beyond that, the satisfaction of accomplishment.Whether your motivations are practical, intellectual or sentimental, learning Spanish is something that will benefit you for the rest of your life!Spanish is a relatively easy language for English speakers to master. It obviously requires an effort, but the pay off is very high.Spanish is a wonderful and easy language to learn. You will always have the chance to travel and practice your Spanish with native speakers in many countries. If you are not learning, what are you waiting for?! 

Book a class with me immediately, the first class is free for you to decide if the online learning method suits you, but I’m sure you’ll see the benefits of learning from home at your own speed.

 


Teaching cultural awareness in an intercultural class 2

 

 

This post has been inspired by the book I have just finished reading: In the name of identity: violence and the need to belong, by Amin Maalouf. Read that I strongly recommend for several reasons: it is a thought provoking book about what makes up an individual: he says there is no one fixed, unique identity, but a series of what he calls ‘allegiances”: nationality, religion, gender, class… the individual, therefore, is the sum of all their surroundings, society and acts of free will and quirks of personality. I particularly loved that thoughtful liberalism, that enthusiasm for a rights based ideology of individual freedom. But that’s not all, it can be found an interesting discussion about the dominant ideology in the media and the culture, the negative possibilities of globalization, like the loss of local identities at the hands of homogeneity, that the fundamentalists might feels.

In short, this is a book that argues for understanding, tolerance and a hard realisation that violence and fanaticism can have very real reasons, rooted in fear, misery and poverty. A must read!!!

 

But what I want to talk in this post is about the necessity of teaching cultural awareness in class. In a previous post, I already wrote about the importance of teaching culture in a language class, but I want to focus here in something that is happening in our classes. More and more often, there are different cultures present in every classroom, and it’s the teacher work to make sure that she/he is incorporating a multicultural education, based in the equality of every single culture and focused in the values of these cultural differences amongst the students.

Moreover, it’s so interesting and enriching for students, as well as the teacher, when the students discuss their native culture with their foreign-speaking classmates at the same time that they are provided with a real experiential content. Few months ago, I was lucky to be in a Spanish class, beginners, in Ireland; so the majority of the students were Irish, but there were also Polish, French and Latvians. What an amazing class! The purpose of the class was obviously to learn Spanish and Spanish culture, but we were learning as well Irish, Polish, French and Latvian culture. This multicultural diversity in class motivated the students to talk and express themselves in order to show the rest the different behavior or customs in their country. It was also interesting to see how the students left the class with a wider perspective in the perception of the reality, because they recognize openly that everyone in the world is not “just like me”.

As I said, it is the teacher’s responsability to promote this multicultural understanding. And there are so many ways to do so… The role-play, for instance, help in the process of cross-cultural dialogues while at the same time it provides opportunities for oral communication. Other techniques, like readings, films, simulation, games, culture assimilators or culture capsules can be used for language teacher to help them in the process of acculturation in the classroom.

I finally hope that teaching of cultural standards may stop pigeonhole thinking and avoid establishing further stereotypes. Because is not only about culture, but about the individual self, aware of its roots and defining himself as the spider web, with links to individuals from other cultural contexts. Because identity is not only a matter of where you are born, but a whole life time process which assimilates all kinds of life-experiences as I said in the beginning with Maalouf book.

 

 

 

 

 


The stages of language acquisition 1

Few days ago I came across this video while my research for inspiration for a post for my blog. I really loved it, it’s so clear that you don’t even need to read the text in the video or my post, even, because a picture is worth a thousand words, but it would be nice if you do, though…

When you learn a new language, it is the second or the umpteenth, you will follow the same process you used to learn your first language. You will go through the same stages as you went through when you learn your mother language since your firsts days of life.

1. The silent period.

Because when you are a baby you don’t speak much, in the same way as when you are in the first contact with the new language, in general, you listen, take notes, write never ending lists of words and useful expressions, but don’t jump to talk unless you are asked, and then, you use the shortest way, monosyllabic words, yes and no, and fix formulas. You observe and imitate.

2. The early production.

When you actually can speak with 2 or 3 word sentences, you can understand what the other person is saying but your answer is limitated, so you use yes or no answers, single words or repetition.

3. The speech emergency.

You can give little speeches, but often with some mistakes. You understand what you’re told and can express what you want to say with longer but still simple sentences. It’s the moment when you start being more independent, so you speak more, but you make more mistakes, which as I said in a previous post, is great.

4. Intermediate proficiency.

You start to produce complex sentences, express you opinion and thoughts, as well as translate ideas from your native language to the new one.

5. Advance fluency.

The use of the grammar and vocabulary is the same as a native or very close.

I am sure you recognize yourself in one of more of this stages. And if you are in the silent period, don’t worry, reach the fifth one is just a matter of work, practice, some study (yeah, I’m afraid some study is required) and practice, practice, practice. And, of course, the support and guidance of the teacher is very advisable, so for all the learners of Spanish out there in the need of some help, don’t hesitate in contact me, I’m here to help!

 


The purpose of language 6

According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, language is:

‘a systematic means of communicating ideas or feelings by the use of conventionalized signs, sounds, gestures, or marks having understood meanings’.

There is no doubt that the most common use of the language is the communicative. We need the language whether to have a intimate conversation with our friends, or give a speech in front of hundreds of people, but the main purpose is to transmit an idea, a thought. To communicate.

But is it the only one? Certainly not. We use the language for other purposes too.

Imagine you are in a bar in, let’s say in Tokyo, and you spend an evening talking to your friends. You’re not ‘communicating’. You’re rarely communicating. You’re not presenting them with any information that changes their belief systems. You’re simply engaged in a kind of social play. You’re establishing social relations and creating warm interactions or determining your relationship to someone or whatever. This is the social function. I agree that this could be considered derivative of communication, but communicate and socialize are not always the same thing.

In the same way, you’re not communicating when you are having an argument with someone. You’re not listening what the other person has to say. You’re arguing. You’re just expressing your opinions or your emotions. There is not an exchange of information there, so there is not communication neither.

Finally, the language has a cognitive function, which means that humans, we use the language to transfer our thoughts in and out of our mind. Have you ever realized that when you think, you do it in a particular language? In my case, I do it in Spanish, but it happened to me that sometimes, I do it in English as well. It is very common when we are living in a country where our mother language is not spoken, we end up thinking in the new language. So, we use a language in our inner speeches, and we are not communicating at all.

Language is the blood of the soul into which thoughts run and out of which they grow.

~Oliver Wendell Holmes

 


Error correction: what, when and how? 2

To err is human

      We all make mistakes, that’s an inevitable fact. And despite what many would think, making them is not that bad, because it’s mostly from the error, that, both, the students and the teachers learn. It’s mainly from the acknowledge of the error that the solution comes.

The knowledge of being wrong is only a starting point” (Corder, 1973)

First of all, it is important to distinguish between ‘mistake’ and ‘error’. A mistake is made with lack of intention, can be product of the fatigue or carelessness, but it can be corrected by the one that made it, whereas an error is due only to the lack of knowledge.

The source of the errors are mainly two:

1. Errors caused by transfer of the learner’s first language (called technically “Interlingua transfer”). This kind of error is very interesting because it means that the student is investigating the new system of the language he is learning, and resorts to his mother language to improvise in the target language.

2. Development errors (“Intralingual errors”). These are result of partial learning, when the learner knows some rules and tries to apply them in general. One very common error in this group is to overgeneralize, for instance, in the english language would be something like “I goed to the beach last week”. Other thing that the student tends to do is to build up concepts or hypotheses about the target language from their limited experience with it. (ej. I don’t know why did he go: did is there because why is a question mark…).

It is essential for a teacher to investigate about errors, in order to recognize the strategies a learner use to acquire the new language and the difficulties the learner bumps into. Only by knowing all that, the teacher will be able to create materials and resource to easy the student’s life.

Besides, the error tells the teacher how far the student is regarding to the language he’s learning and what remains for him to learn, and following this progress, the teacher can carry on the studies in accordance with what the learner needs to know.

Error is a source of feedback for the teacher, showing him how effective his teaching style is and what changes has to be made to get better results with the student.

Error correction

      How should teachers correct students? What kind of feedback should they give? Does each error need to be treated?

      In general, the teacher’s job is to point out when something has gone wrong and see if the student can correct himself. Then, find out if what the student says or writes is just a mistake, or if it is an error. However, the technique of correction is not simply pointing the error repeatedly and going through the same set of exercises over an over again. Remember that mechanical learning produces mechanical answers and most of them are wrong. On the contrary, the teacher needs to understand the source of the error, so that he can provide appropriate remedy, which will resolve the learner’s problems and allow him to discover the rules by himself. So, again, the source of the error is an important clue for the teacher to decide on the sort of treatment.

A good error correction should lie on determining which is the information that needs to be presented to the learner and what statements should be made about it. Since it is absolutely impossible and counterproductive for a teacher to deal with all the errors of the students, a hierarchy should be established to correct only the significant ones. In such a hierarchy, the priority should be given to errors which might affect the communication and cause misunderstanding, for instance, small errors like following example usually need not be corrected as the message is clear and correction might interrupt a learner in the flow of productive communication (ej: I gave she a present). On the other hand, global errors need to be corrected, since the message is not understood clearly (ej: Daddy my car happy tomorrow buy).

For oral works, I would recommended that students making mistakes during a fluent speech should not be interrupted, but be reminded of the mistakes and talk about the reasons. Whereas for correcting written works, I don’t correct the students’ mistakes directly but instead, put marks indicating there is something wrong with that sentence, word, or punctuation, and the student should find out which the error is and solve it.

      To err leads to perfection.

Bibliography
Corder, S.P. (1973). Introducing applied linguistics. Middlesex, Penguin.
Erdoğan, V. (2005). Contribution of Error Analysis to Foreign Language Teaching.