Thursday, March 29, 2007

Languages - A Star Trek-like Journey?

No matter how wonderful we may be as teachers – and no matter what fabulous techniques we have learned and tweaked and refined – chances are, our students won’t really be learning Spanish (or any other language) unless they want to learn it.

We might be teaching them, yes, and they might also be performing well – and of course, our skills are crucial here – but are they really learning? And even more important, are they craving more?

Are they becoming lifelong learners who want to embark on a Star Trek-like journey to seek out new contacts in the language and culture?

Do they tune the radio to the Spanish station when they’re in the car? Do they switch to a Spanish program on their televisions at some point during the day? Do they have French, Italian, German, Chinese, Russian or Japanese popular music on their iPods? Do they make an effort to greet and converse with native speakers in their town? Do they see themselves visiting the countries where the language they're studying is spoken?

Do they see that languages all around them and can enrich their lives and their experiences every day?

Our goal as teachers is to spark that motivation in our students.

But how do we get there?

We need to take language study out of the classroom and into real life, and we need to bring real life into the language classroom. That's the motivation behind Chispa.

It's a journey well worth taking, for all of us. And it's not just worthwhile – it's fun!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Pasos de gigante -- but forwards or backwards?

I just got this email from a friend, under the heading "increíble."

"Ruth, acabo de escuchar esta noticia. Una emisora de radio tiene un concurso de agarrar a un inmmigrante.

Estoy arrechiiisima!! Echo humos por todas partes. Dios Mio, creo que es como un virus que se está regando. Parece mentira pero como que estamos echando para atrás. Todo lo que habíamos ganado, parece estarse devolviendo a pasos agigantados. Podemos hacer algo al respecto? Lee sobre los imbeciles estos..

"Craig announces that ‘Operation La Cuca Gotcha’ kicks off tomorrow February 6th. Our listeners can help ‘out’ illegal immigrants by any of the following methods:

Calling into the show or our toll free number

Call any immigration office toll free hotlines which are posted on the Jersey Guys webpage

The ultimate Jersey Guys goal is set: 300 illegals in 3 months. Beginning tomorrow February 6th and ending May 5th (yes, Cinco De Mayo). The guys plan on possibly renting a bus and going around and trying to round up illegals by themselves. But how do you keep them from escaping?"

So this is like that ridiculously inflammatory and offensive "Catch an Illegal Immigrant" contest at NYU earlier this year. Only this time, it's for real.

Increíble, yes. I would also call it asqueroso.

But mostly, instead of naming what I feel about it, I have to start thinking about actions I can take to counteract this in a POSITIVE manner. Two negatives may make a positive in math, but they don't in real life.

I definitely feel that that my videos will help, by celebrating the Spanish language and Latino cultures in the United States as valuable and valued resources.

And I know that my writings are on target, too.

But there is so much more to be done, and it is going to require the combined POSITIVE efforts of a whole lot of people to stem this kind of thinking.

We have our challenge, and it's not catching illegal aliens ....

Friday, March 09, 2007

Phrases we used to learn in language class

My previous post includes a link to Eddie Izzard's hilarious routine about French phrases he had to memorize in French class that ended up being extremely difficult to work into everyday conversation:

"The mouse is under the table."

"The cat is on the chair."

"The monkey is on the branch."

I still remember the junior high dialogues that the kids in French classes had to memorize .... and I didn't even take French! It's funny, but I just wrote about this in the paper that my friend Liz and I are preparing for the NYU "Beyond Borders" conference on multiculturalism and international education (yes, our abstract was accepted!). And then I opened up my daily digest email from the FL TEACH Foreign Language Teaching Listserve, and found many, many language teachers reminiscing about exactly this same thing: the silly phrases they had to memorize, which got stuck in their heads. Some of them were useful:

"Ojalá que se mejore pronto." (I hope he gets better soon.)

Some were less so ....

... the German equivalent of "I have a plaid bathing suit with a zipper."

... the Hebrew version of "Mother, the cheese is bad."

But I have to say that my favorite phrases from any language book are the ones from the book "Hindi Made Easy", that was given to my father when our family spent a year and a half in India in 1961-62. (He was sent by Columbia Teachers College and USAID to work on a nonformal education project there.) I believe this book was the one given to British soldiers stationed in India.

The two phrases that we will all always remember are:

"Let us set fire to the village."


"That man is a horse thief."

(I wish I were kidding about this, but I'm not!)

By the way, if you want to see pictures of a 3-year-old me in India .... click here. The white outfits and colored paints and powders are from the holiday Holi, when everyone dresses up in white and throws paint, colored water, and colored powder on everyone else. As a kid, this was just about the most fun I could ever imagine having! Seeing the Taj Mahal was amazing, too. I was so young at the time (3 and 4), but I definitely remember my friends, the people who worked in our house, my British nursery school, Claridge's swimming pool (where my brother fell in before he knew how to swim, and one of his teachers jumped in, in full sari, to get him out), and the elephant I refused to ride on (much to my father's dismay, since he wanted to get a picture, but I had just seen the elephant eat an entire banana WITHOUT PEELING IT, and that just freaked me out .... ). And I remember - and will never forget - the incredible poverty that was around us every day.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

I've been tagged! Why I Blog ....

Normally I hate any type of "chain" letter, but this is different .... Nancy Marmolejo of Comadre Coaching and The Loca Diaries has tagged a bunch of us with the question,
Why Do I Blog?


I think I blog so that I can share information with people. I am a compulsive resource sharer. Especially if it's (a) related to language and culture and (b) either inspirational or funny.

I mean, where else would I have an opportunity to share this with the world?