Showing posts with label Spanish. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Spanish. Show all posts

Sunday, February 15, 2009

How to let your students remember vocabulary and grammar in an effective way

Today's guestpost is written by Ramses, who has his own blog called about learning Spanish as a second language having fun and not worrying about grammar rules.

As a teacher in training (Spanish as a foreign language), I'm always looking for ways to help my students remember vocabulary and grammatical structures. Going to college myself, I had to Spanish from the very beginning, with just a little bit of help from my professors. Still, the advices they gave me to study grammar and vocabulary led to nothing: after three months I still wasn't speaking a word of Spanish, although I was already getting massive amounts of input. The problem? I couldn't remember all those weird words and phrases.

Many teachers (teaching a foreign language) give their students word lists to memorize and loose chunks of grammar. They make three big mistakes:
1) They give single words; without a context a word doesn't say much. A word like haber or que in Spanish can mean so much, that it's impossible to learn it out of context. Everything has to be learned in context, not only because it makes thing clearer, but also because it's generally easier to remember a sentence that means something for you than one loose word with many meanings that doesn't say you anything.
2) They don't tell their students how to memorize the words. This often results in rote memorization, which in turn results in a nice test outcome, but won't stay in the student's head for long. Even if a teacher gives attention to memorization techniques, these techniques often don't work well and include things like: learning the list back and forth, making groups of 5 to 7 words and learn them by heart before moving on, making thematical sets of words (verbs with verbs, nouns with nouns, etc.).
3) They let their students learn loose chunks of grammar. This is really dangerous! I know, many teacher swear by grammar instruction, but ask yourself a question: are my students even slightly fluent after they went to my classes? The answer is probably NO. Telling people how the language function in order to speak, is like telling someone how to build a car in order to learn how to drive. Theory is nice and all, but we should concentrate on meaningful input with as goal meaningful output.

So, when I began majoring Spanish in college, I started looking for alternatives to memorize, and, (more important) remember vocabulary. That's when I discovered Anki. Anki isn't the only program out there to remember things; software like SuperMemo and Mnemosyne does the same, but Anki is the most famous and most complete (in my opinion) out there. Still, I don't use it to memorize single words (see point 1), but "learn" (remember is a better word actually) whole sentences. It's not that amazing how I go over learning a new sentence (which contains at least one new vocabulary item and never more than 3, depending on the size of the sentence): I put the Spanish sentence in the question field and the (in my case) Dutch translation in the answer field. Nothing more, nothing less. Actually, I'm now at the point I only put the Spanish definitions of unknown words in the answer field.

Applications for Education
Spaced Repetition Systems can help your students, and how you can work with them in class. In the first place, the most ideal way for students to learn a sentence (and with that sentence the vocabulary and the grammar, but in an inductive way) is by simply learning (memorizing) the sentence and understanding all its components. After that, the student will add the sentence to Anki (or any other SRS) and the translation to the answer field. With Anki there's also an option to share sentences and decks, but it's important that the student knows the sentence upfront (before seeing it while doing the SRS repetitions).

Then there's still the case of testing. Personally, I don't like standarized tests, but most of us need to limit ourselves to a specific curriculum. So, to avoid losing your job but still using an SRS like Anki you could pick out sentences you gave students and test their knowledge. These tests could consist of translation from Spanish to English or to explain certain parts of the sentence. Never go from English to Spanish; there are too many ways to translate an English sentence into Spanish, it's just too error prone.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Spanish Lessons for the Youngest of Students

We are Little Amigos is a blog that Spanish teachers may want to explore. On We are Little Amigos visitors will find some podcasts designed to help young students learn Spanish. The current series of podcasts has Maribel Suardy reading children's stories. The stories include songs with Spanish lyrics. The blog entries corresponding to each podcast contain key Spanish words and their English translations.

Applications for Education
The free podcasts from We are Little Amigos are a good resource for introducing Spanish to young students. The podcasts are of a short enough length that they could successfully expose students to a valuable lesson without being so long that students lose focus before the episode is completed.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Teaching Spanish - Resources and Lesson Plans

Once again, my network of Twitter contacts has brought me to some great resources. On Friday, I impressed a couple of foreign language teachers at my school by showing them The Realia Project which I learned about from Karen. Karen writes the Teaching and Learning Spanish Blog. The Teaching and Learning Spanish Blog has a lot of great resources for Spanish teachers and students. Right now there are some short animated videos on the front page. These videos seem like they could be good resources for elementary age students. Below each of the videos Karen has posted a list of keywords and key phrases that students should recognize in the video. I've embedded one of the videos below, but you'll need to visit the Teaching and Learning Spanish Blog to read the list of keywords.

Spanish Lesson Plans for Children is another great blog for Spanish teachers and students. The author of the blog, Jessica, shares her experiences teaching Spanish to her own children. The blog is much more than just a collection of experiences. There are great lesson plan ideas and links to other Spanish teaching and learning resources throughout Spanish Lesson Plans for Children.

Visit the Teaching and Learning Spanish Blog for keywords and phrases to learn from the video.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Learn Spanish -

Lingus TV is a new website featuring videos to help viewers learn conversational Spanish. So far the collection of videos is small and they are mostly for intermediate for advanced learners, but there are a couple of videos suitable for beginners. The short videos feature actors having brief, realistic looking and sounding conversations. Each video is accompanied by the Spanish transcript and the English translation of the transcripts. The concept is great, but unfortunately the content of a couple of videos makes me question whether or not I would use them with students younger than high school age.

Here is a short video from Lingus TV.