Wednesday, September 18, 2013


I know we all have that same dream - that our students will actually embrace the language and learn to speak it for real.  I often am treated to tales of how they heard and understood Spanish outside the classroom or, better yet, how they got to actually communicate in the language.  But recently a student of mine, really went above and beyond.

April (not her real name) recently shared with me a story of how she used her Spanish outside of the classroom to make a difference.  She said she was at a park and noticed a woman who was surrounded by a group of people and was crying.  April said that she approached the woman when she noticed that she was speaking Spanish and that the crowd of onlookers was unable to understand her.  The woman explained in Spanish that she had lost her son in the park and was not able to find him.  Together they called the police and April translated for the woman and served as her liaison with the police.  A description was made, the place he was last seen, what he was wearing . . . and the search was on for the child.

The boy was found, much to the teary-eyed relief of the mother and April said it was the most amazing experience.  She said that when she was in the moment, she didn't need to think of conjugations or vocabulary at all, the language just flowed.  She told me that she had a feeling of "Where did that come from?" but was too involved in the situation to slow down and worry about it.  I would like to commend her here twice.  First for her ability with the language which came from many hours of study and practice, and secondly for her courage to stand up and do something instead of holding back.

I know that many people might have stood back in self-doubt and not offered their help for fear that they might embarrass themselves or that their grasp of the language might not be good enough.  But April jumped in without a thought for herself - simply with the aim to help a fellow human being.  I simply could not be more proud of her.  I feel blessed to be her teacher.

Hasta Pronto,


Sunday, September 15, 2013

¿Qué Dice El Zorro?

What Does the Fox Say?  If your students aren't already going around school singing this strange song, they soon will be.  With 30 million YouTube downloads and more than 130,000 comments, this song and the accompanying video are beyond popular.  That said, it is every bit as strange as it is popular.  The song is performed by the Norwegian band Ylvis in very basic English and it explores the theme of animal calls, ultimately asking the title question, "What does the fox say?"

The ridiculous suggestions of what the fox says and the unusual video are the humor and the hook for this particular song: Ring-ding-ding-ding-dingeringeding!  Joff-tchoff-tchoffo-tchoffo-tchoff!  A-hee-ahee ha-hee!  These are the things I keep hearing my students singing in the halls to each other.

I did not do the art for this particular piece, but I created the caption.  Your students will probably get a kick out of it and it might be a nice transition piece into a lesson about animal calls in Spanish.  My students have often been interested in qui qui ri qui and guau guau as well as pio pio pio.  Perhaps your students might enjoy translating the song into Spanish?  It has a very basic structure and vocabulary, so it might make a good assignment or an extra credit that they would find entertaining.  (Translation has been a bad word in language instruction for the past 30 years or so, but I think it has its place as an occasional tool.)

Regardless of how you use it in your classroom, I hope you and your students enjoy it!

Hasta la próxima,


Sunday, September 8, 2013

Un Crimen Horrible

I saw this online today and figured it needed a caption in Spanish for my students.

Easy enough for Spanish I students to understand!

And this is week 9 at my school, so I've just got five days until we get a three-week fall break.  Lots of hoops between here and there remain to be jumped, but laughter is a great way to start the week.

Hasta pronto,


Thursday, September 5, 2013

¡Que Hablen En Español!

One of the greatest challenges that I face is in getting my students to actually speak in Spanish - as opposed to just speaking about the language.  Though I believe there is a lot of value in studying grammar and vocabulary discretely, I also know that the real underlying goal of everything is learning to communicate in the language; and that means opening one's mouth to speak!

I have come up with projects, lessons, games and gimmicks over the years.  Some have been successful but, I'm not afraid to admit, many have not.  Adolescents, by their very nature,  are reluctant to do anything that makes them feel awkward or has the potential for great embarrassment, and speaking a foreign language is one of those things.  They feel so shy when it is time to speak because they don't want to look foolish.  Interestingly, sometimes it is the very best students who are the least willing to open up and talk because quite often those are students with perfectionist tendencies who cannot abide making mistakes.

 Make Mistakes
Image: Mike Gifford via Flickr, CC 2.0

So what do we do?  Work on their self-confidence, teach them to be resilient to criticism, and remind them that mistakes are part (a very important part!) of the learning process.  I'm sure we all have a story or two about a horrible linguistic or cultural faux pas that we made while learning the language.  Personally, I mistakenly referred to New Year's good fortune (omikuji in Japanese) as a slug (namekuji in Japanese), horrifying and stupefying a Shinto priest in the process.  It doesn't help that slugs are pretty universally reviled in Japan.


I personally share my stories of shame with my students so that they understand that mistakes happen to everyone.  One day even the most shameful mistakes (Embarazado, anyone?) are easy to look back on an laugh.  And laughter makes a good classroom tool, I think.

Here is a game that will get them talking and laughing.  Have the students work in pairs and have half of them turn their desks around facing the back of the classroom, while the other half face the front.  Give the students who are facing you a vocabulary word and then they must describe the word to their classmate using only Spanish.  I don't let them use hand gestures either.  Throw in a couple of non-vocabulary words too - just to keep them on their toes.

You can make it competitive by keeping score or you can keep it relaxed; you know your students and what will work best with them.  Mine love to compete so we make it a race to see which pair can come up with the correct word first.  In this activity they have to use their communication skills to talk - examples, descriptions, circumlocution - it's a beautiful thing!

Hasta pronto,