Personal growth

Hello dear readers! It seems like ages since I’ve posted. One of my not-so-well-kept secrets is that, in addition to teaching Spanish by day, by night I am a fierce roller skating queen. Well… I don’t know about fierce, but I do play for the No Coast Derby Girls here in Lincoln. We’re currently prepping for our Saturday bout against Fargo/Omaha and it’s my first time playing with the newly formed Thunder Dames. We practice 3-4 times a week at 2-3 hours per practice, plus we go to the gym, so that usually leaves very little time for other stuff… like blogging or sleeping. I’m hoping to get back to a more regular pattern once things settle down again.

Anyway, I also spent some time this weekend with non-derby friends. One of them mentioned he wished he would have actually paid attention in high school Spanish because, as it turns out, speaking a foreign language is a useful life skill. Who knew? But he was frustrated because it would take him way too long. I told him, he’s wrong. Does it take time? Absolutely. Does it take dedication? You bet. But his goal is not to reach advanced levels, he just wants to have basic conversations. I’d say that’s an intermediate mid level by ACTFL standards, and I think that an adult who puts in 5 hours per week for 1 year, attending to all the modes (especially interpersonal)… he could easily achieve his goal. ‘But I’m really busy,’ he said, ‘I’ve got two kids.’ My response? Great! They can learn with you! Kids (and/or students) are a great motivator to keep pushing the boundaries of your language knowledge.

Which segues into the real meat of this post: what do I do to keep growing as a Spanish learner? I would argue that my Spanish grows more on a daily basis than it ever did in high school or even college. In high school, I did my 45 minutes a day plus homework, but my classes were grammar-based. That’s fine with me because I’m a grammar nerd, but I came into college still being more or less completely unable to hold a conversation in Spanish. I could read and write well enough, but even after 4 years, my interpersonal abilities were negligible. And I was arguably the top non-native Spanish student in my graduating class. Yikes! But how many of us can tell the same story?

In college, I grew even more, but I also had to balance my job, relationships, and other classes on top of my Spanish. It was difficult because the jump from grammar-based non-native speaker Spanish to literature-based native speakers is HUGE. So when I think about what I want my students to be able to do, I want them to not feel like they’re doing i+100 when going from high school to university and/or real life Spanish.

Now, I learn at least one new word/phrase/structure a day, if not more. I’ve been making a big push since Christmas to increase my Spanish use outside of work. At work, I am gaining new words all the time because I have to help my students, but I can handle lower level grammatical tasks with ease. My real work comes from the stuff I’ve decided to do outside of class.

-Listen to more Spanish radio. My local Spanish radio (97.7 El Lobo out of Omaha) plays pop music for a whopping one hour per day. But that one hour, 4-5 pm, is during my commute home. I like to listen for new songs that I like (just to listen to) and ones that could be used in class. Then I can use services like Pandora or Spotify to save those songs and find more artists that I like. Listening to radio ads also have really upped my ability to understand spoken Spanish without having the luxury of facial expressions and gestures. I find listening to numbers especially challenging, so I try to repeat them back to myself.

-Watch Spanish tv. I don’t watch a lot of tv in the first place, so this is a bit of a stretch for me. I mostly prefer comedies – something that Spanish television doesn’t really have. So I have to settle for telenovelas. Right now, I’m working my way through Santa Diabla, which has all the episodes posted on youtube. (They’re posted by Telemundo, so it’s okay! Too bad they’re totally not school appropriate.) It was scary at first to leave my beloved (Spanish) subtitles, but for the most part, I understand 95% of what they’re saying and 100% of what’s happening so… that works for me.

-Read Spanish literature, not just news. I’m finally working my way through Como agua para chocolate which I tried to read while in college, but I just didn’t have the skill. There was way too much cooking-related vocabulary that I didn’t have, and the language is very flowery. Lots of compound past perfects and whatnot. I prefer to work on microcuentos (stories that are only 1-2 pages long) or short stories, because I can reread them multiple times to note grammar usage or reinforce new words in the same amount of time it takes me to read one chapter of a novel.

Of course, these are all strategies we can use to help our students become more proficient in our chosen languages. The more we know, the more knowledge we can disperse! What kinds of things do you do to grow your own language proficiency? Any book recommendations for a sci-fi/fantasy nerd?

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