Learning Spanish

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Title: Who I am and how one learns a new language
Category: learning a new language
Description: Who I am and how one learns a new language

My name is Beth McCammon Feldman and I grew up in southern California.  I attended the University of California at Davis where I studied Animal Science and Spanish.  I was planning to go in the Peace Corps to South America but was sent to West Africa instead, so I learned French too.  I married a fellow Peace Corps volunteer from Upstate New York, which is how I ended up here.  I did a PhD in World Animal Agriculture at the University of Illinois and spent almost 3 years in Nicaragua teaching Animal Science (in Spanish) and doing research with goats.  I wanted a farm, so we bought a beautiful, rich 80 acres in Interlaken, NY.  For 15 years I raised goats, made and sold cheese and raised 4 children.  For the past 14 years I have taught Spanish at South Seneca (actually French for the first two years).  I am writing this blog because I wanted my students and their parents to know who I am and to share with you what I know about learning a foreign language.  It is a very exciting task and takes a long time, but the rewards are tremendous.  I think it will be easier if you understand the process and what we are trying to do in Spanish class.

We now know that learning a language is not simply a matter of memorizing words and grammar rules.  In order to learn to really communicate in Spanish the following must occur in our classroom:

1.      Learners must be immersed in Spanish in context and this input must contain meaningful words and phrases.  

2.      Learners must have ample opportunities to repeat new words and phrases in varying combinations so that they can learn and recall words, but these activities need to be personalized and creative.

3.      To speak a new language you need to have visuals and objects to refer to, not just talking to the other person.  Pictures, graphics and film clips are all helpful when you are trying to tell someone something.

4.      Learners should be encouraged to express themselves in meaningful utterances rather than in grammatically accurate sentences.

Expecting adolescent or adult second language learners to learn empty grammar rules is counterproductive, and maybe even unnatural; learning words and short utterances are the first steps to learning grammar.

What are your strategies for remembering words in English?  Do the same ones work for you in Spanish?

What can you understand in Spanish?  What can you do in Spanish?

One further comment.  It has been shown that people learn languages best when they are comfortable, secure and having a good time.  This is the atmosphere we should strive to create in our classroom.