When I was younger I thought I wanted to know French. I dabbled a bit, and then I stopped. Spanish was so much more prevalent in my school, so I just switched over. I FELL IN LOVE. I couldn't get enough of Spanish and I never wanted to stop. Other languages really held no appeal to me: I just wanted to know Spanish. I knew college classmates trying two or three or five languages at a time, and I just didn't see the point. Spanish intrigued me. Spain intrigued me. End of story.
Imagine my surprise, when three years later as a Spanish teacher in a local high school, I find myself in a professional collaboration with Chinese, Latin, German, and French teachers as well. The disinterest melted away quickly when I realized how much we had in common: we were misunderstood, undervalued and put on the back burner while other core subjects seemed to get priority. We tried to get students outside themselves to see a bigger need in the world around them. We tried to relay the experiences we had traveling thousands of miles away to students who hadn't left our county. I quickly realized something I never expected: If you teach any language, you advocate for all languages.
So, this week, I want to lead a charge for Spanish teachers to embrace, highlight and celebrate other languages. Stop competing for numbers, and start encouraging students to explore other options in addition to Spanish, not in place of. Here's one way you can do this:
Teach your students 1 new word a day in a language other than Spanish.
Not random words, however, Words that they can know because of their background knowledge in Spanish. We often highlight English to Spanish cognates, but do we teach our students how many other languages have Spanish-look-alike vocabulary? Their English will only get them so far, but once they have learned Spanish, dozens more doors swing wide open in their path.
Here is a handout of 5 new words to teach your students this week. They include a word in French, Italian, Portuguese, Arabic, and Romanian. At the end of the handout there are the definitions, the Spanish words I would use to connect them, and a link to a native speaker pronouncing them for you.
Here's how I would use it in class:
- Spend 5 minutes at the beginning of class passing out the flashcards to each student and learning and repeating pronunciation together.
- Place ALL English words on the board (all definitions from the week mixed on one slide) and ask students to guess. The idea here is that English alone is not enough knowledge to help.
- Take down the English translations and place the Spanish words for the week on the board (RESIST the urge to translate back to English!). Students should now be able to narrow down which one matches.
- Have students draw a small picture, write the Spanish translation, etc on their flashcard and save in a pocket of their binder.
- Each day, review the words you have already learned, and then add to it with a totally new language!
- Allow students to make observations about differences in letter sounds in Spanish and the other languages. Engage in deeper conversations about a time abroad when your Spanish helped you learn another language or translate (I always talk about when I was in Rome and negotiated prices, got a taxi, purchased food, etc without speaking the same language...I spoke Spanish, they spoke Italian and we understood!)
You could even follow it up with videos like this one, that show the similarities between Spanish and Arabic (or other languages). I loved to encourage my native speakers to pursue a third or fourth language instead of staying bilingual. I rave about how French teachers have mentioned that native Spanish speakers have the best French pronunciation. Open their minds to the possibilities beyond just your classroom.
Let me know if you use it! Or, think of other language and vocabulary that Spanish has helped you learn. Pass this knowledge along to your students this week in an effort to not only show them how vital Spanish is for their future, but also to show them what else they can do because of it.