Finally got around to looking into why the Spanish insist on calling Don Quixote “Don Quijote,” something that bothered me a lot in Alcala, as it was Alcalingua’s wifi password. Related, the Spanish seem to be way more insistent upon pronouncing the x/j phoneme as the IPA /x/, which you can hear here , rather than simply an English “h” sound as you are wont to hear in the US.
More than thirty years ago, Stephen Krashen hypothesized that language is acquired when learners receive input that is just above their own level. If the gap between what a student can produce and what she hears or reads is too great, more language won’t be acquired. That’s an easily accepted notion, and one that probably rings zone of proximal development bells for anyone who has been within a stone’s throw of an education class.
For English Language Learners to make progress toward both language and content objectives - for them to learn what they need to learn— their teachers must take care to make the input they provide comprehensible. Part of that input is, of course, teacher talk.
- Slow down. It’s important to maintain a natural rhythm, but if you speak too quickly (as, IME, most teachers do), your lectures and instructions will just be a wall of sound for a student who is still developing her listening skills.
- Use a consistent vocabulary for daily routines.
- Front-load content vocabulary (I will discuss this in more detail later) so your ELLs can better anticipate and follow what you’re saying.
- Gesture. Use facial expressions, body language, and your hands. Point to key terms, examples, or related images in the room, in your presentations, on student materials.
- Be explicit in your transitions. ELLs are so busy processing that they may not realize when you’ve moved on to a new point or even when you’ve wrapped up a digression
- Become comfortable with pauses and silence. All teachers understand the importance of wait time. It’s even more important for a student who may be mentally translating or otherwise deciphering or formulating what to say.
- Say less. Whether out of anxiety or friendliness or both, many teachers, IME, chatter too much when speaking to less proficient ELLs. Use nonverbal means— tone, gestures, expression— to show that warmth and interest, but speak in fewer, shorter, simpler sentences. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve witnessed a well-meaning teacher TALKTALKTALK at a student who smiles, nods, and turns to me to explain what all that was about.
- Say more. Elaborate. Often, it takes very little time or trouble to define or explain a new word in the course of the conversation or even lecture.
- Repeat yourself exactly the first time a student asks you to say something again, or when you realize a word or phrase has not been understood. Changing your phrasing before the learner has had a chance to listen a second time is often more confusing for both of you.
- Be aware of, reduce, and rephrase idiomatic speech. Even students who have lived in the U.S. for years may be distracted by trying to figure out which ball you mean to start rolling.
Teachers of English Langauge Learners should never rely only on the oral presentation of important information or instructions. If students are responsible for something, it should be written somewhere— on the board, in notes, in the book. Further visual scaffolding and support for content is essential, and the topic of its own post.
Things I learned firsthand this summer
When I went into my study abroad experience, I expected that I would get improved Spanish and some cool travel out of it. My Spanish is, indeed, much better, and I have plenty of photos to prove I did some cool traveling. But study abroad gave me so much more than that. It gave me new friends, some of whom don’t speak my primary language, with whom I share countless memories. I gained the confidence that if I can make it through pickpocketings, food poisonings, nights spent in bus stations, crazy Portuguese festivals, and living with someone who can’t completely understand me all of the time, I can do just about anything. It’s also given me new compassion for and understanding of how to help non-native English speakers. This trip changed my understanding of learning and teaching and my understanding of myself.
I had been in Spain for weeks by the time one of our teachers explained some of these to me, and other classes never got the lesson. Again, cut for *SPOILERS*
Okay, so the first thing I feel like I should warn you about the speed of Spanish in Spain, especially if you’re going into this after Spanish IV or later, like I was (which I think is probably the best way to do it; I don’t think the girls who went after Spanish II got as much out of the experience, but that’s just me). This is not the slow and sweet Spanish of Carlos Espinosa. This Spanish is fast and furious and you are not going to be able to understand it at first. That’s okay. It’ll slowly get better. Promise. Just don’t go in thinking you’re going to be able to understand a good bit, because they will start jabbering and you will think you’re way in over your head. Everyone is like this at first, and believe it or not you’ll be able to pick up on a good bit of the jabbering by the time you leave.
Because I know before I went I was just sort of randomly studying aspects of Spanish I’d forgotten, I’m going to list some things which will come in most handy in daily conversation. Of course, study abroad is a learning experience, so I’m putting these under a cut as *SPOILERS* of things you’ll end up learning while you’re there because I’m a nerd like that.
Things I Brought That I Shouldn’t Have
Things I Didn’t Bring That I Should Have:
All the students who were only in Alcala for the month of June met in the plaza at 8:30 to take a chartered bus to the airport. This was very nice, as traveling in public transportation with the suitcase, oversized carry-on, and backpack I had is not a thing I really enjoy doing. My host mom walked with me to the plaza, I suppose to help me with my luggage or something. She helped me balance the weight in my suitcase with my carry-on (“I’ve had a lot of chicas stay with me,” she said) and we had a sweet goodbye. Then we all loaded up in the bus and most of us fell asleep during the thirty minute bus ride to the airport. It had been a long month.
Check-in went well, and even with it taking me thirty minutes to get through security due to a sword-shaped bottle opener I had bought for Kyle in my luggage (sorry, Kyle), we were so early our flight didn’t have a gate yet. We had to wait an hour for the passport checkpoint to open for us to get through to our gate. Once we finally got on our plane, we were happy to find it was one of the newer ones with video monitors on the back of each seat (a sharp contrast to the plane we’d taken over). None of us were sitting beside each other, but we all felt like we’d accomplished something with the three new-release movies apiece we watched during the flight. (I watched The Iron Lady, X-Men: First Class, and The Ides of March. They were all sad. But X-Men was so good I was itching to tell someone about it.)
In Philadelphia, we had to go through customs, pick up our luggage, and take it over to be picked up again. Rachel had gotten a call that we needed to switch our flight from Philly to Charlotte because our original plane was delayed. So we did, and then we got Chick-fil-A. Unfortunately and worrisomely, once we got on the plane to Charlotte, we sat there for an hour because its water wasn’t working. The first time the pilot informed us of this, Jennifer, who was seated next to me, and I yelled at the pilot that we really didn’t need water, as long as we got to Charlotte on time. By the fourth announcement, in which he informed us that attempts to repair the water had been unsuccessful and we would be using the Plan B of flying without water in the bathrooms, but that the toilets would still work, we were exasperated. We were worried that we wouldn’t make our flight from Charlotte to Jackson, but apparently our pilot “went as fast as he could” and we had plenty of time. One flight in a tiny 40-person plane later, we were back in Jackson, nearly 24 hours after we had begun our journey home.
We met in the plaza at 8:30 to walk to the train station, where we took a train to Madrid, then found the AVE section and got on the train to Toledo. The train got us there in thirty minutes, and we stepped out into a beautiful train station. I bought a map for 2 euros, because Rick Steve had told me that the free maps were useless. It came in handy, as we would later basically decide to get lost on purpose.
Outside the station, we paid 8 euros for the “tourist bus”, which was a little steep as it turns out there were very few stops on said bus. But it was okay, because it took us on a beautiful route to get there, and we had no problem getting back to the train station, and the streets in the city were so small there was no need for a bus between sites.
The first place we went was the Cathedral of Toledo. Very old, with more than one saint buried there, it was very large, very ornate, and very beautiful. It also had a few Gaudi paintings in its Treasury.
My favorite part of the Cathedral was this Cardinal’s hat hanging from the ceiling. Apparently, on of the rights you got by becoming a Cardinal was the right to be buried whereever in the church you wanted and to hang your hat over it to mark it.
The main thing I got from the church was an overwhelming sense of just how corrupt Catholicism was in Europe at the time. The wealth of riches all around me seemed at odds with the faith its statues seemed to be professing. It was quite an experience to get such a feeling from a building rather than a history book.
After the church, we wandered around Toledo’s tiny cobblestone streets and did some shopping. We set out to find a swordmaking shop we’d heard about. We found it, but it was closed until four in the afternoon. We did make it back, and watched a craftsman work on a sword. The back room looked pretty much exactly like my grandfather’s shop back in Mississippi. I guess tools are universal.
We had loaded baked potatoes for lunch and wandered around to the part of town that had a lot of things highlighted on the map. We stumbled upon a swingset on a hill with a fantastic view.
Things like this are the magic of traveling, I think. We enjoyed Toledo so much because we were able to take our time and get lost in the city, rather than hustling from one attraction to the next.
After the sword shop, we meandered back to the main plaza and finished up souvenir shopping and bought some marzipan, for which Toledo is famous, before heading back to the train station.
Back in Madrid, we spent a bit of time shopping around Sol one last time before heading back to Alcala. The next morning, we would be headed back to the US, and we were satisfied with our last adventure in Spain.