“And how do you say ‘…’ in Spanish?”
That is probably the most asked question by my students in class, after “Can I go to the bathroom?” and “Can I go and drink some water?” Big smile and positive appraisal if I get those words in Spanish. The eagerness to learn is what makes the difference when learning a foreign language. It is true that most of my students fear the learning of a new language. Their own learning differences make the new challenge harder. They do not want to be moved from their ‘comfort zone’. It has been a long and hard way to get to where they are now. Why would they risk embarrassing themselves by putting in evidence their disabilities?
The foreign language teacher needs to provide an environment in which they feel safe; in which the new language is seen as a non-stop festive process of learning where language mistakes of any kind (misspelling, mispronunciation, misunderstanding or sentence and text misconstruction…) are just part of their language acquisition. Engagement becomes then a key word in this context. The more engaged students are, the more they will learn. And the more interesting the lessons are, the more engaging they will be. But the question that remains is: Can we really engage students in something (the Spanish class) they are not interested in (the Spanish language)? My answer is yes.
Learning While Playing
In my years of teaching, I have seen many students who had different reasons for learning Spanish or English. They all were more or less successful depending on multiple variables (their first language(s), attitude, effort, LD(s)…). But all of them, whether a four-year old boy learning his first words in Spanish, a sixteen-year old teenager at Noble forced to take Spanish as a Second Language (a requirement to graduate) or a fifty-eight year-old business development manager improving his English, love to PLAY. And that is what I offer in my classes as much as I can: games. Learning through play. Language is a big game where we need to learn the different pieces and play with them! The more we play, the more we learn. However, do not misunderstand the concept of play. It’s always a “controlled play.” There is a structure and a set of rules, there is a goal (or several ones), there is material that students will end up mastering (and hopefully putting in practice someday) and last, but not least, there is feedback that we all get either from me directly or each other, whether it is during the process of play or after it. Color wheel, Jeopardy, Bingo, Hangman, vocabulary catapult, bidding, throwball-bin, verb form race, Kahoot!, Quizlet … Will you come and play with us?