Wednesday, May 20, 2009


When studying something new, variety in approaches to learning can keep our minds engaged for longer periods of time.

When children approach Spanish for the first time, they quickly become bored by bookwork. Memorizing vocabulary lists is tedious work. And learning English and Spanish equivalents requires processing all new language input through the mind's translator: not a very efficient way to "live" in another language.

Playtime in the target language allows children to absorb new expressions while doing something they love. I recall as a child feeling delighted when my mom or grandma made time to play tea party with me, or when my dad sat down on the floor to build towers out of blocks. As busy parents, it is a challenge to find time to stop and play.

As we play, as "language instructor" I create an atmosphere of linguistic immersion by describing what is happening in the play kitchen, or narrate what the fire engines are doing, or describe the problems that the baby doll is experiencing, or why it's important to be careful with the toy iron and ironing board. All in Spanish--and yet to the child it makes sense because of sound effects and the "prop". Often a child will begin to ask for vocabulary in order to be able to respond. Before long, we're having a conversation that can expand and grow into real world communication.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Intercultural Project

Ivy Tech Community College requires students in Spanish 101 on-line to conduct an intercultural project. They're encouraged to get out of their comfort zone, and to immerse themselves in Hispanic culture through visiting in someone's home, attending a cultural event or religious service, or interacting through a social networking site.

My students attended a birthday party, a quinceañera, a Cinco de Mayo fiesta, a Latino community cultural event, and a family reunion. Their reports include meaningful observations and a sense of accomplishment, as, after just 8 weeks of on-line Spanish, they've taken the step to immerse themselves in the culture and to use their Spanish language skills in the real world! Students who did some research ahead of time had the best experience, and their papers reflect their interest and their investment of time and energy. This was an excellent project! While some students reported feeling apprehensive at first, they became more comfortable as they stayed and made friends. Several commented that they never would have attended an event like the one they did, but that now that they'd broken the ice, they would be back for sure!