foreign 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.

 


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.

 


Culture as part of the communication 5

[the Red Queen] “But you make no remark?”

– “I didn’t know I had to make one-just then” – Alice faltred out.

– “You should have said,” – the Queen went on in a tone of grave reproof, – “It’s extremely kind of you to tell me all this”

(Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll)

“Señor,” said Sancho, “I see well enough that all these things your worship has said to me are good, holy, and profitable; but what use will they be to me if I don’t remember one of them?

(Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes)

 

          I am sure that every student of a foreign language is going to find himself, at some stage, in the same situation as Alicia with the Red Queen: unsure about what speech they have to use with a particular interlocutor, or how to materialize their communicative intentions, without any idea what is it that their interlocutor is expecting from them and if they should participate in a certain context. In sum, what ritual communication patterns must be followed.

          In the other hand, sometimes, the students get so overwhelmed with all the cultural information, not lived or experimented by themselves, not linked with their necessities or tastes, that they become “Sanchos”. They recognize the interest of those informations but they are sure this is not they way to interiorize that knowledge.

          And here is where it comes the importance or necessity of teaching culture as a insoluble part of the communication.

          But, what is culture?

          I won’t paraphrase definitions from others, for me, culture is what has been acquired or learnt inside the society, like the traditions or ways of life. This guided and repetitive behaviors and ways of thinking and feeling shared by one community. 

          So language and culture must go hand in hand, because both are essential in the communication. Knowing the language is not enough in a real situation since we use so many cultural elements in our speech that someone who doesn’t know this cultural aspects is going to hear a completely indecipherable message. 

          In the same way, when we learn a language and then we go to another country with the expectation of it, we use that language but follow our cultural patterns, which sometimes creates a feeling of frustration, of not understanding what is going on.

          I have a practical example: I have used this exercise in some spanish classes. Imagine this situation: a middle age person goes to another middle age person’s house to get back a book, they are acquaintance, but don’t know each other very much. There are 4 dialogues and the student has to chose the most likely to happen in Spain.

 

1.
A. Good morning, what would you take?
B. Yes, a Coke, please
2.
A. Want a drink?
B. No, thank you very much
… (after a while)
A. Well, goodbye. Until Monday
B. Goodbye, until Monday
3.
A. Want a drink?
B. No, thank you very much
… (after a while)
B. But now yes, I am thirsty
4.
A. Want a drink? A beer, a Coke …
B. No, no thank you very much
A. Or a coffee or tea …
B. No, really, thank you
… (a little later)
A. Are you sure you do not fancy a coffee or a soda?
m Well, yes. A cup of coffee, if you take it too …

        I got varied results between the students, but if you ask a Spanish, the answer will be always and without exception (so far…) number 4.

          For me is clear that teaching a language has, as main purpose, the communication in general and to communicate with the natives in particular, so whenever the teacher organizes a didactic unit, it has to bear in mind the vocabulary needed, the grammar included and the cultural element underlying. For instance, if the topic in class is “how to ask in a café, restaurant or bar”, i will plan my class around some vocabulary (drinks, food…), some tools (how to ask and answer), some grammar (question structures, verbs) and some cultural aspects (what register is used in a bar, what would expect the waiter for the customer, the register language and behaviors in those situations).

          I just need to have in mind my culture and the one of the student in order to keep a distance that will allow the student to reflect about the difference and how this differences affect the language, so that my student has information enough to know what it’s expected from him in every communicative situation, so he could chose whether to adapt himself to the cultural assumptions in every situation, or keep being foreigner, but at least he would have the tools to be in control of the situation.

          Maybe, understanding the culture as part of the communication, leaving the stereotypes away and focusing in what makes us different and equal, could lead us to a better understanding of the others, which is always very positive and highly enriching.


Why learn a new language?


Why spend time and effort in learning a foreign language when I can travel and communicate with the people without speaking their language? 

 

Well, there are so many reasons that I would need hundreds of posts, but I’m going to set out only the couple of ones that works for me. The reasons why I learn another language and the positive effects I can take out of it.

I love languages with all my heart, starting for my mother language, Spanish, and continue with all the rest. I speak French and English and started learning Chinese and Italian, even though I stopped temporarily due to a lack of time… but I’m determined to retake them some time in the future.

When I was a teenager, the main reason why I was interested in learning English was only to understand the lyrics of the songs but that was the beginning of it all…

The interest in learning and improving my English made me go to England for the summer months. Living in another country and interacting with people in another language that wasn’t my own opened my mind. It was the first time I saw a different way of doing things, of acting and thinking, and that was great. I just wanted more. Two months wasn’t enough, I really wanted to stay longer and keep learning; it wasn’t only about the language anymore, because the languages are inevitably entangled with the culture, the people. So when I came back from my “British experience”, my motivation for learning a new language was renewed and wider, and it was tangible. It wasn’t only for my CV or being more competitive – which is still a good reason – but because knowing a new language would allow me to know a new culture, first, which would widen my horizons. That was great!

 

After that experience, I started to learn French, and I chose very carefully the academy. I absolutely wanted a native teacher, not only for the obvious reasons: it’s their mother language, but because a native teacher would be from another country, with another culture and another way of thinking, which was terribly attractive to me.

I finished college and four months later I was on my way to France. I got a job as a Spanish assistant teacher in a high school. I was ecstatic. I was going to do the two things I love the most: teaching my own language and learn another one. Wasn’t it wonderful?

The time I spent in France was absolutely enriching. I improved my French to the point of being able to communicate in all kind of situations and express my feelings without any problem – I’ve got to know that one of the most difficult things in learning a language is express emotions – but, what was better, I understood another culture beyond the stereotypes.

And here comes other reason that moves me to know a foreign language, the fact that with the language, you learn, not only a culture, but a new pattern of thinking. It’s clear that every different language is constructed upon the necessities of communicate something of every different group of people and their ways of seeing the world, so these two aspects would have prevailed in the construction of the language. Getting to discover this underlying patters takes time, but is something that I think should be in the base of every good teaching method. It now comes to my mind that every language teacher I’ve met tell the students not to translate from their mother language, but to think in the language they want to communicate. That might be harder and more difficult, but it will be better in order to improve your communication and knowledge and broad thinking in the long run. I personally love the moment when I reach the level when I stop translating and start thinking in the foreign language.

Finally, the last positive outcome of learning a new language for me is that knowing another language and another culture gives you the opportunity of having an outside perspective about you and your culture. It will make you multicultural and give you a new view, a new way to see yourself.