This is my first blog entry for Express Fluency. I thought I’d share this piece about my evolution as a Spanish teacher. In 2009 I learned about a way of teaching languages that changed everything about the way I teach (and even changed my life). I am looking forward to continuing on this journey with you!
Why I’ve Learned about Teaching Language
How many people do you know who studied a language in high school or college and still couldn’t speak that language? Plenty, right? And I was one of them.
Many people say to me, “I wish I could speak Spanish, but I can’t learn languages.”
Here’s the good news: There is no such thing as a person who can’t learn a second language. The trouble is that the way we were taught in school isn’t the way our brains acquire language.
I studied French from 5th grade through high school. I could conjugate any verb in any tense. I could read Le Petit Prince, and I could write an essay (dictionary in hand). But I couldn’t carry on a conversation. I studied Spanish in college with the same result.
Because I didn’t learn Spanish in a classroom (I traveled and lived in Chile, Cuba, Mexico and Guatemala after college), I knew there had to be a better way to teach a foreign language than the dry memorization, verb conjugation and rote conversation practice I had to go through. When I started teaching Spanish, I thought games and fun activities were the answer. I invented verb conjugation games. I had my students make up skits. They had fun. They liked Spanish class. But they still couldn’t speak Spanish.
In 2009, I went to my first workshop in Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling®. Here’s what I learned in a nutshell: When we understand the language we hear or read, we unconsciously decode the symbols, like babies do. When we were babies, we didn’t memorize vocabulary lists or learn about tenses and conjugation. We heard the language spoken to us, and eventually we acquired it. We could already understand, speak, and read in our first language before anyone told us about an indirect object pronoun.
Well, as teachers, we don’t have countless hours with our students, so we have to make sure everything we teach is comprehensible in order to speed the acquisition process.
After that first conference, I was sold. Since then, I’ve learned as much as I can about TPRS® and other Comprehensible-Input based methods. And I’ve used these methods to teach hundreds of people, from toddlers to retirees, to converse in Spanish. And I’ve never had so much fun teaching. And my students have never had so much fun learning. And most important, my students are learning Spanish quickly and easily.
It feels like magic…but it’s not. We’re hardwired to acquire language this way.
Anyone can learn a new language.