Things seem to be taking shape for our little bilingual conversation club. We seem to be settling on a method or game plan that works for our group and each of us seems to have developed enough trust in the each other to feel comfortable taking those huge language risks necessary to make some real progress. Even our normally very passive and quiet members are coming out of their shells.
Potential Issues: We seem to be relying quite a bit on our bilingual facilitator for instruction and explanation. Granted, it is convenient for any of us, Spanish or English speaking, to be able to turn to our facilitator when we are having trouble communicating. Too much of that, however, will quickly turn our facilitator into an instructor, and I’m afraid that will really undermine one of the fundamental goals of our program: that we teach each other and learn from each other through organic, authentic communication.
I can see why it is happening. We are a group of beginning/low-intermediate Spanish learners and English learners, and for one or two of our group, this is the first foray into actually using another language. We need some linguistic support and instruction in order to be able to say anything at all. We need translations, sentence stems, and grammar instruction. But how much instruction and support is too much before the driving pain of necessity that really compels one to take risks and reach out when learning is removed?
What I am beginning to realize is that my initial idea that all of us would be sitting around glibly chatting in English and Spanish with bilingual dictionaries on our laps and questions and explanations being tossed around the room was probably pretty unrealistic. That’s an ideal or a goal to strive for. Honestly, as green as we are, we need more support to communicate even the simplest ideas. Its going to take quite a bit of instruction in English and Spanish to get most of us to the point where we can have more spontaneous communications. And, that’s okay. We can still hold true to our goals of allowing everyone to bring to the table their knowledge and skills, and having an “everyone is a teacher, everyone is a learner” approach.
Here’s what we did this week:
1. Greeting activity – Using the target language, each person stated their name and one or two things they did over the past weekend (using some past tense there!) and one or two good things that had happened since we had last met. Those two discussion points were written in English and Spanish on the white board, and actually each of us was supposed to have prepared our answers to them during the week (our tarea).
During this time we had some impromptu lessons on the difference between porque and paraque and the fact that Spanish has a lot of reflexive verbs that just don’t exist in English.
2. Vocabulary/Verb conjugation activity – Earlier in the week two of us had selected some key nouns, phrases, and verbs from the Spotlight reading text we are using. We wrote down them down in on slips of paper, English on one side, Spanish on the other. At group, we put them into bowls, verbs in one and all other in the other bowl.
On the white board we drew the verb conjugation T chart with I/yo, you/tu, etc. We demonstrated how to use the T chart with the verb To Be/ Estar / Ser. As a group we went through the conjugations of each.
Each of us then selected a verb and a noun/phrase. In turn, we pronounced the noun/phrase in English and Spanish, then we conjugated the verb in English and then in Spanish. We discussed the differences in conjugation for -ir, -er, and -ar verbs in Spanish. We also paid attention to correct pronunciation, especially the ‘s’ on the third person singular in English. We also tackled the past tense version of some of the verbs.
3. Spotlight Reading – Although we still had a ways to go on the lengthy Spotlight text, “The Human Face” we decided to finish it so we could move on. First we read in English listening to the audio recording online. Next, we read in Spanish. Each took probably 5 minutes to read through and I was surprised at how exhausted I was at the end of reading the Spanish text. It took so much effort to read, think about pronunciation, and word meaning simultaneously!
Next week we plan to follow the same basic game plan, but add to our bowls of nouns and verbs. We are also switching to an abbreviated version of Spotlight, which is slightly less than three minutes in length. That one (in English only) will be available on Spotlight’s Facebook page.