“To have another language is to possess a second soul.”
Upon moving to Charlotte, North Carolina in 2007 I was awarded the opportunity to teach at Central Avenue Bilingual Preschool, an English language immersion program for high risk, first generation American children and their parents. Growing up in New York City, where Spanish was just as prevalent as English, I rarely came across Spanish speakers who desired to learn English. During my years of employment at Bilingual Preschool, I not only witnessed the yearning desire that those parents had to learn English, but also the eagerness they embodied to be liberated from what they felt was a world of isolation. I remember one of my parents specifically, who began Studying English in the year that I began employment. Two years later, after many conversations and home visits with her, that same parent picked up her daughter, she leaned over, and said to me, “Ms. Shadora, it’s nice to finally get to know you.”
Initially, I was confounded by her statement, but as I pondered on her words, I understood her message completely. After two years of involvement, this was the first time she and I held a full conversation in English. We conversed in Spanish, but at this time I was still limited in what I could say in certain topics. In her words, this engagement in English allowed her to really know who I was for the first time. This situation kindled an urge within me to not only advocate the importance of learning a second language, but also to take an active role by teaching.
I love every facet there is about the Spanish language. From the varying regional dialects, to the Arabic influence, cultural ties, phonetic format, etc. I am in utter fascination and amusement whenever the Spanish language is involved. My objective as a teacher is to not only share my passion of Spanish with students, but also to allow them to build their own enjoyments with the language.
My teaching style uses diversity, in a structured format, to fit a diverse group. Meaning, I understand that every student is not the same, and that each one possesses a different learning styles, be it visual, kinetic, or analytic. I also understand that all students have different intrinsic/extrinsic reasons for enrolling in my class. Some enroll for the love of the Spanish culture, while others may only want to use the language to advance their careers or fulfill a general education requirement. Regardless of the students’ learning styles or reasons for enrolling in my course, my goal is that they always learn and link/find relevance in the information they acquire in class.
My teaching style is influenced by my preferred teaching method, which is the Communicative Language Teaching Method (CLT). I prefer this method, because it not only focuses on the importance of being able to communicate in the target language, but also the importance of communicative exchanges being authentic and meaningful.
For instance, I remember a professor, and mentor of mine shared with me once that although there are a good number of graduates with degrees in foreign languages, very few of those graduates are capable of conversing in their target language. Many of those graduates are indeed great at reading and writing in the target language, which are equally good forms of conversing. However, due to methods like the Grammar Translation Method, a methodology which places a huge emphasis on understanding grammar, they received very little, if any, time to practice speaking.
While I believe that grammar plays an essential role in second language acquisition, in my opinion, it is the icing on the cake. When students are prepped, and taught to not only read and write in the language, but to speak, their confidence and desire to learn more skyrockets. Most students are intimidated of conversing in the target language, due to the anxiety of not using the correct grammatical format. If students are provided input that consists of authentic and meaningful language, and then provide an arena where they can practice their communicative skills, they are more likely to not shy away from speaking in the target language, and more likely of achieving language acquisition.
For example, when teaching demonstratives, which can be extremely confusing to students, I designed my classroom like a store. I used recently learned vocabulary words, which were clothing items to accompany the demonstratives. I designed the class like a store, by placing scarfs in the front of the classroom near myself, shoes, and shirts in the middle of the class, and boots, belts, and jeans toward the back of the class. I then had a student pretend to be a sales clerk and I was the customer. The student asked, “Hola, ¿Cómo te puedo ayudar?” (Hello, how can I help you?) I responded, very slowly, so that the students could hear the form, “me gustaría comprar esta bufanda, esa camisa y aquellas botas.” (I would like to buy this scarf, that shirt and those boots.) As I named each article, I used my fingers to signal the distance. I modeled the aforementioned example 3-5 times, and then asked questions to the class. After spending 10 minutes of circling the classroom and asking questions, I then assigned students roles as either sales representatives or customers and allowed them the opportunity to practice.
This activity is both authentic and meaningful. The students are using the language in an authentic format to shop. It’s meaningful, because the students are not just using remote drills to learn grammar, but seeing how the demonstratives pertain to distance and more importantly how demonstratives would be used in a real-life scenario. This is the format that I follow in almost all my lessons. CLT is also a proponent of variation. Therefore, many of my lessons are infused with videos, radio segments, reading, listening and oral comprehension activities. These variations allow students to work alone, in groups, in their seats and move around their learning environment. I love to use YouTube and Yabla to help students explore Spanish speaking cultures, as well as Google maps to see live footage of Spanish speaking countries. I thoroughly enjoy authentic material such as menus, event programs, and newspaper articles that were originally created in the target language. I also believe that nothing wraps up a great lesson better than concluding with a fun review game using Kahoot, space race, or something equally exciting.
In summary, I love for my students to experience the immersion experience whenever they are in my classroom. Thus, instead of only reading manipulated material about places, foods or customs in Spain or Latin America, I use authentic items. This method is to ensure that the students are grasping as much as possible of the target culture, and being exposed to authentic input. Additionally, I like my students to feel comfortable when practicing the target language, and feel that they are not wasting their time. I want them to walk away feeling like they invested time in acquiring a skill that is relevant to their lives. Therefore, in all my classes I make sure to create a classroom environment that is warm, welcoming, and student focused – not teacher driven. Lastly, as an instructor, I feel that flexibility is vital, since no two classes are the same. The CLT method is student-centered, and therefore varies each time it’s employed to suit the needs of the students. It is well known, and documented that the needs of students will vary class to class; therefore, it’s imperative that instructors are flexible and versatile to suit those needs.
I believe if students are encouraged, motivated, and provided lessons that are authentic, meaningful, and apply to the real world, they will have high self-efficacy in regards to acquiring a second language. I have worked with all sorts of students and I have seen the confidence that accompanies them when they see that they are capable of communing in the target language, no matter their entry level. Through my work, I am reminded of the fulfillment I get when I receive emails from previous students who tell me how well they are doing in their Spanish classes, and how rapidly they are progressing. A great joy of mine is seeing the transformations that take place in my students. It still amazes me how students walk in my classes, especially my 101 classes, nervous – many of them feeling like they won’t be able to speak – and they walk out curious; knowing that if they apply themselves they can do anything, even learn a second language. This is the reason I love to teach.