Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Motivating Language Immersion

Language immersion camps have been around for a long time.  Middlebury in Vermont is an example with a long history:  http://www.middlebury.edu/ls/approach/pledge  Like study "abroad" at home, the programs offer students an academic environment for learning the language through immersion without leaving the country.  In the Midwest, there are the Concordia Language Villages:  http://www.concordialanguagevillages.org/newsite/Languages/spanish1.php  Some campuses have language houses: 

Where I teach here at Valparaiso University, we have a World Language Village in one of the nicest dorms on campus.  The deadline for the Spanish House is coming up in January.  Check it out:  http://www.valpo.edu/foreignlanguages/spanish/spanishhouse.php

Does making a promise to speak only the target language really work?  Middlebury has the trademark on the term "Language Pledge".  Asking a group to abide by a single language during an immersion experience has mixed results, according to students I know who have done these programs.  A key, I believe, is having particpants on board with the idea of signing a promise.  Also, there must be reasonable consequences for speaking, reading or writing anything but the target language. 

Being aware of the positive outcomes of such an immersion experience is key...especially when suffering through the headaches and frustrations of trying to spit out what you're trying to say in another language.  In essence, to learn a language through immersion, a person has to WANT to.  When I spent a year in Barcelona as an undergraduate with students from universities in California and Illinois, there were students who were already fluent in Spanish in our group.  There were others whose Spanish sounded just like the textbook, with an American accent (I was one of those!)  I pledged with myself early on to be wary of befriending Americans, and to speak as much Spanish as possible.  I chose a home stay option with a Señora who spoke no English.  I spent weekends meeting people who spoke Spanish and Catalán exclusively.  I particpated in a few "intercambios" (language exchanges) but found that I was giving English lessons during the precious time that I could be speaking Spanish with people who didn't want to use me for my English-teaching abilities.  I felt very selfish--but my theory worked, and I learned a ton of Spanish in my year in Spain.

What about studying local culture right here among the Latino community in Chicago?  This week I am learning more about a program organized by the Mexico Solidarity Network on immigration and community organizing.  http://mexicosolidarity.org/ausm/alternativebreaks.

We have great local resources for learning language through immersion.  Potential new friends live all around us!  Having the motivation and the "I want to  and I can do this" attitude helps a lot, too. 

Friday, November 5, 2010

Prayers: CPH's En el nombre de Jesús

Omar Weber published a book of prayers, a series of conversations with God about day-to-day matters of joy and concern, written in Spanish, which was a delight to me when I ordered a copy from Concordia Publishing House, entitled _En el nombre de Jesús_.  Our God is not just a god who sits in the heavens and looks down on us as sinful scoundrels making mistakes as he points and laughs at the entertainment of the fixes we get ourselves into by our own pig-headedness.  Ours is a God who came to dwell among us, to sit at the table with the down-and-out, the sorrowful, and the cheaters.  Some followers of Christ become friends of their Savior who first befriended us, enjoying communion, advice-seeking, confession, and a safe haven for fears, ideas, rants, hopes, and needs through conversations with the Lord. 

In his book of prayers, Pastor Weber intercedes about quotidien concerns that are common to Christians at particular moments in our lives.  He includes personal situations such as, "Thank you for all that I have and am" and "I have too much to do" and "I need to learn to work on a team", as well as prayers for community, including "Prayer for my sister" and "Prayer for those who are angry at the church";  these prayers are overflowing with love and devotion for the God who loves us infinitely more than we deserve, who invites us to cast our burdens and cares upon his strong shoulders. 

Back in early 2008, I asked the editors of CPH if I could translate a selection of twenty five or so of the prayers for a booklet to use as a Christmas gift the coming year for my family.  The editors granted permission and I got started.  They asked me to submit those translations for approval by the copyright office, and when I did, they offered me the translation job of the entire book.  I was surprised, a bit overwhelmed, and soon delighted by the task ahead of me.  I enjoyed a summer of sitting in the coffee shop, the public library, and at the kitchen table mediating on the words of the prayers until the pages fell out and I felt I knew the author as a friend.

If Advent is a time of reflection and prayer for you as it is for many believers, or if you're thinking of a gift for Christmas for a person of prayer:  hot off the press, the bilingual version of Pastor Weber's book of prayers In the Name of Jesus is available for less than $15. 

En el nombre de Jesús - bilingüe (In Jesus’ Name - Bilingual)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Chi-Chi-Chi Le-Le-Le

Without knowing whether the outside world was aware of their plight, "los 33" spent seventeen days in isolation below ground, rationing their eating to two spoonfuls of tuna every other day.  When they received the first contact from the outside, they scrawled a note in red marker and sent it to the surface in a ziplock bag: "Estamos bien en el refugio los 33". 

The tenacity for survival in the mountains of Atacama's mining community is rooted in faith.  Pictures broadcast around the world of Camp Hope, and the baby named Esperanza who was born during her father's captivity in the earth's entrails, gave the world a reason to smile as we received a couple day's worth of exciting and happy news.  When backed by the grit and resolve of a team of brave and hard-working heroes, a little bit of hope goes a long, long way.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Exiled in America short film

The border between the United States and Mexico is an arbitrary line with a history that is increasingly less fluid.  As border "security" is tightened, families from Mexico and other parts of Latin America are left feeling much less than secure as deportation and the border keep parents, siblings, spouses and children apart.

If the family in this video were the only one, this would be a very sad story.  But since this story is played out time and again in thousands of families in the US and Latin America, the border's separation of families is desvastating.  Here's a link to a 10 minute short documentary film about a divided family, called "Exiled in America":  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hy5cKRAtHAY

Tonight I heard the story of a 2nd grade American citizen who was left orphaned in Texas when his mother was deported to Mexico.  It resonated with our local community because we have families in our neighborhood like that, too, as friends and family are left to pick up the pieces and fill in the gaps of the lives that are separated and torn apart. 

We see that our immigration system is broken.  The answer is in making human dignity a priority and repairing the damage that has been done to families in our midst.  Let's work together to fix the system. 

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Spanish Entrance Exams for Homeschoolers

Thanks to online learning options and disciplined young scholars, students entering a brick and mortar college from homeschooling may come in with as many as two years of college credits already earned.  Students from public, private and home- schools may have questions about receiving credit for their previous studies in a language, or may wish to take CLEP exams or placement exams to place into higher levels on campus.

CollegePlus helps youth and adults coordinate their studies online to prepare for credit-granting exams and to take online courses for the beginning or completion of a college degree. 

Prior to teaching Spanish online, I was very skeptical about how students could learn language through a computer-based program.  Now I have seen students' vocabulary expand, their understanding of grammar grow, and their confidence and interest in the language soar.  Students taking a course online can expect to do many  more exercises and activities than in-class students.  The practice allows students to cement the new expressions into their memories.  Locally, Ivy Tech Community College offers an online Spanish curriculum that has been revised this year. 

Online Spanish requires complementing study time with speaking outside the "class" with speakers of the language.  Local conversation groups can be found at restaurants, colleges, libraries, and churches. 
In Northwest Indiana, conversation groups are available at Chela's restaurant in Highland.  In Valparaiso, at the Valparaiso International Center, at Don Quijote restaurant, at Immanuel Lutheran Church (1700 Monticello Park Drive, near Glendale and Roosevelt), and on campus at Valparaiso University for current students. 

Where do you practice Spanish?  Let me know:  send an email to share your favorite setting(s) and locales for practicing the language. 

Saturday, July 10, 2010

First Day of Summer School

Summer school is always an adventure.... packing sixteen weeks of Spanish into an accelerated format means taking a deep breath and diving in. 

On the first day of class, it is important to set the tone for a comfortable learning environment.  How to do that is a challenge, when the teacher and students don't know each other.  Some students are shy to speak aloud in class--and especially in a second language.  Other students want to share what they know or to get back to speaking after time away from the language.  Striking a balance, including everyone, embarrassing as few as possible, and making learning enjoyable is a challenge.  This group is up to it!

This time, we started with a chapter on foods.  The class runs from 3-6 pm.  After making introductions and going over the syllabus, I wanted to play an icebreaker, so I asked students to pick a favorite color and handed out construction paper to each of them in their choice of color.  Then, I showed them mine, blue, and shared how blue makes me feel....in Spanish, of course.  Then, students shared how their favorite colors make them feel...but only those students who felt like sharing had to talk.

By 5 pm we were well into the food vocabulary.  I could almost hear the stomachs rumbling.  Late afternoon is a challenging time to teach words relating to grocery shopping, working in the kitchen, sharing recipes, and dining out.  After repeating the new vocabulary (on foods) aloud, we talked about the grammar for the chapter (gustar and similar verbs) by talking about colors, and foods we like and dislike.  I asked for volunteers, and we read _Vamos a comer_ (a children's book) aloud, acting out parts.  A few good actors were discovered in the class.  This will be a fun semester.  :) 

Thursday was the second day of class.  We had our first quiz.  Summer school flies by--but three hours a day allows ample time for immersion.  I am making every effort to work cultural information into every few minutes of class.  Students love culture.  They crave it.  I am seeking to feed that hunger with information and a taste of Hispanic living.  For homework, in preparation for writing a review of a favorite restaurant, I invited students to visit an area restaurant as an optional homework assignment.  The in-class essay Monday can be about any restaurant, any visit, ever.  But in case students want a recent experience to write about, together we produced a list of Northwest Indiana authentic Hispanic restaurants that we like. 

Sometimes a class really meshes.  The group gets along and bonds right away.  With other groups it takes time, and that is okay, too.  There are days, too, when the intersection of vocabulary, grammar, communication, culture, and energy come together to crystalize in an ideal class.  Other times, the grammar is a chore, the vocabulary list feels stilted, the drawings in the book are hard to figure out, the words are impossible for students to pronounce, and people forget to turn off their cell phones.  Learning language is worthwhile even then.  But this week's two first classes at the start of Summer Session II were some of those good days, when the students raise their hands and ask challenging questions, make mistakes and don't feel ashamed, see connections and try new things, and the technology in the classroom works with every click.  I missed being in the classroom since classes let out in May, and am delighted to be back in class with a group of eager students.  Welcome to summer school!