From the desk of Hope…
This year for spring break my family decided to go to the Dominican Republic with three families from our neighborhood. We had a wonderful time at the beautiful resort Casa de Campo.
The thing I was not prepared for was the language barrier. I am not sure how I missed this in the trip planning and research but it was clear…in the DR people in general speak Spanish, Italian and French. There seemed to be no time for slow talking Americans. We were the minorities!
Do you know who Ellie Mae Clampett is?
This is who I felt like at times.
I was informed about the medications I should take for Malaria, I was informed NOT to drink the water and I knew about the difference in currency but somehow I did not know to brush up on my Spanish.
Just for fun, I studied this language barrier all week. I thought about things like: How are we doing communicating with people who do not speak English? What strategies are we using? How is the authentic context affecting our success? What are the priorities when communicating with people who do not speak the same language? Is this what our ELL students feel like?
A Few Things I Noticed:
- Listening Skills: When you are communicating with someone who does not speak the same language, every word is important so engagement level needs to be intense.
- Patience: Frustration will get you no where. Perseverance, calmness and composure are important when trying to make sense of what is being said.
- Observation Skills: People tend to use their hands and body language to “tell you things.” They point and act things out to help you understand.
- Key Vocabulary Words: cuarto de bano, agua, comida, cervesa, vino, bueno, playa, dinero and gracias were very important words to learn QUICKLY.
- Context: This was not a contrived setting. The experiences were real and authentic. This may have been the most important factor in learning the language at a fast rate.
As the week went on I became incensed with my high school Spanish teacher. Conjugating verbs didn’t help me get it. The many worksheets we did in class didn’t get it either and going up to the board to fill in the blanks was a waste of time. I learned NOTHING in my high school Spanish classes that helped me on this trip.
Based on this spring break experience, it appears that genuine conversations within an authentic context is a very efficient way of learning Spanish. This raises my curiosity about best practices when teaching a foreign language in an artificial setting such as the four walls of school. Short of taking students on a field trip out of the country, how do you create lessons, situations and experiences that maximize performance when learning a second language in a school setting? Just wondering.
So How did We Fare As Minorities?
By the end of our visit to the DR, we were putting together sentences. The key vocabulary words we initially learned were now being connected with other parts of speech. We were able to build some (very) basic syntactical structures in order to communicate!
No malo por una semana! (Not bad for only a week!)