David Learns Spanish - Day Six

Thinking more about my crazy learning method of taking an article from a Spanish newspaper and just using that to learn from instead of building up sets of words and grammar. To me this makes the learning process fun. I take a real article and go through it and learn each and every word and repeat it out loud every day until I really understand it and can read it smoothly.

I don't try to learn the verb forms, or syntax, or particle roles. But each day they seem to be clearer to me and I uncover a layer of meaning that I didn't really understand before. A phrase that I understood the words to yesterday, but didn't understand their meaning was - in talking about how the teacher in the story prepares students: "tenemos que trabajar en equipo y hacer un esfuerzo por entender un sistema que es muy complejo". I initially read it to be "we have them work on equipment and make them a force that understands a system that is very complex". Then yesterday the pieces fit differently and I could see it as, "our work is to equip them and get them to embody the force to understand a complex system".  Now maybe I am still wrong, but I can feel the language opening up to me and welcoming me in. This is exciting and fun. I now find that throughout the day the words from the article pop up in my mind randomly.

Taking a more theoretical perspective or analysis of my learning method, I am reminded of a chapter in the book "Innovative Strategies for Heritage Language Teaching" edited by Dr. Sara Beaudrie of Arizona State University and Dr. Marta Fairclough, Avant's partner at the University of Houston.  The chapter is by Dr. Maria Carreira of Cal State Long Beach and the National Heritage Language Resource Center at UCLA. Titled, "Supporting Heritage Language Learners through Macrobased Teaching", it describes two methodologies for teaching and learning a language. Basically, it says that pure L2 learners start with a blank slate so teachers can and do build up their language blocks methodically. Dr. Carreira calls this Microbased teaching. Heritage learners on the other hand, come to the classroom with a lot of knowledge of the language in place. That knowledge will vary greatly from student to student and likely have elements that are different from the language taught in class in terms of dialect, syntax, morphology, spelling etc. But they bring a base knowledge and feel for the music of the language that is powerful and can be built upon. They also have the fundamental concept of living in the skin of someone who speaks another language. This may be even more valuable than the elements of the language itself that they bring because they know how to operate in another language and are not afraid to do so.

Many, if not most, heritage learners are randomly forced into Microbased teaching classrooms. This is frustrating for both students and for teachers. Dr. Carreira describes the Macrobased approach for heritage learners. In this approach, teachers work with heritage learners on content that they understand some of, but not all.  Then the task is to fill in the blanks or add elements that are important for the variant of the language being taught. You can imagine how much more rewarding this approach is for heritage learners. Aside from the fact that the language they bring to the classroom is respected and seen as a base to add to, instead of something flawed or crude to be rejected, it allows the learning to start from an advanced point, yielding powerful results.

Although I certainly can't say that I am proficient in Spanish, I do come to this challenge with a couple of foundational language elements that make Macrobased learning more appropriate for me. I am proficient in Japanese, having worked in the language as a businessman in Tokyo for many years. I have also studied French for five years in a proficiency-based program, and informally learned some Spanish over the years. So Microbased learning just frustrates me. Now I am working on stories that have pretty advanced content, but still can't count to 100 or conjugate any verbs. This may sound strange, but it feels good and seems to work.