Most of this blog post will be an homage to my dearest friend in the world (and in the universe/universes if we are to ever make contact with alien life), Erin Burton.
Erin is who we all want to be. She is a non-native Spanish speaker who has achieved a distinguished level of proficiency. She has a master’s degree in Spanish linguistics. She married a Peruvian and they have four gorgeous babies. They only speak Spanish in the home. They are all geniuses, I am quite sure that IQ tests would prove that. And Erin, who has taught all levels of Spanish from junior high through college, is a Home Manager (she stays at home, cleans up every spec of dirt that manages to manifest itself in her pristine home, supplements the kids’ school learning with at-home learning, manages all of the soccer and gymnastics schedules, cooks amazing gourmet meals, and hosts neighborhood parties that are the talk of the town– like, more than once a week).
Why is this important? Let me tell you.
It was Erin who lead me to my first of many “proficiency-based-learning is key” revelations (as she has been the primary “revelation-revealer” since I first met her as a small child). One day, after tiring of my seemingly endless stream of texts inquiring about why native speakers/heritage learners say this or say that, she said, “look, it’s just a dialectical tendency. It may not be the “rule,” but it’s the way real people say it in most places.”
Wow. So, I’m just supposed to accept that people are out there not following the rules in everyday language? Of course! We do it in English all of the time!
Let me add, not only did I study abroad in Mexico, living with a host family, but I returned to Mexico and backpacked through Mexico, and I have traveled throughout Puerto Rico (twice), and I have traveled to the Dominican Republic (Erin is to blame for that one, too)…it’s not like I haven’t had any exposure to the real language and the real culture. But I thought that language learning followed a certain path, with certain structures, and certain rules…first you learn the present tense, then you learn the preterite tense, then you learn the imperfect, then you compare the preterite and imperfect, then you learn the future tense…Oh how my heart aches for those students early in my teaching career!
Fast forward to today, and now I have colleagues, friends, and other non-native “Spanish-speaking” adults who will bring up something that they read on a product or heard in a commercial or in a song, and they say, “Why can’t they find someone who REALLY knows the language to translate that?” or “Does that person only have an eighth grade education or something?” along with many other questions that make it obvious that these people were never taught to pay attention the language as it is produced by the people who own it.
THIS, this, is why authentic resources are so critical for our students who are acquiring a second language. You have to hear the real thing, see the real thing, read the real thing, a LOT and OFTEN in order for it to stick. To go beyond the memorized chunks of formulaic language. To produce authentic language.
Yes, culture is so easily taught through authentic resources, and so are comparisons and connections. But YES, communication IS also taught through authentic resources!
I know you’re still thinking “but most of my students will never travel to a Spanish-speaking country.”
Well, what about Spanish-speakers in your community?
“But we don’t HAVE a large Spanish-speaking community!”
You may not now, but you will. And if not you, then your students will, or there children will, and what kind of legacy will you have passed on? That the Spanish language consists of a bunch of “tengo que’s” and “voy a’s” and “no you can’t say ‘estuve’ because you use imperfect for location…’s”? Or will you pass on that you have to evaluate your audience and you have to really listen to the person who is speaking to you in order to successfully communicate? And will you pass on that rules are constantly broken because language lives and breathes, and that it can’t be confined to a strict set of rules or chunks of memorized language?
What legacy will you leave?
Como siempre, BUENA SUERTE!
Disclaimer: I do love storytelling and I do love TPR. I LOVE to used leveled, non-authentic readers in my classroom. But they are all tools that help me reach the ultimate goal of teaching my students to communicate in the REAL WORLD.