miércoles, 25 de enero de 2012

A new challenge

This week I'll have to substitute a teacher whose student is a guy who speaks decent Spanish (enough to communicate about every day's life, I've been told) but he has no idea about grammar. So the big challenge here is: how do I teach that? I know how to teach grammar, but fossilization is a tricky thing. As I'm clueless, I'm all ears to listen to any advice from anyone.

viernes, 20 de enero de 2012

Summer classes in Santiago

Are you looking for Spanish classes in Santiago during summer? You have reached the right place, young padawan. Here is what I offer.


I teach classes to anyone who is interested in learning Spanish in Santiago. I teach private classes, but we can make arrangements for small groups (up to 5 people). If you have friends who want to learn Spanish and are more or less on the same level, tell them to join us and for a very small fee we can all meet regularly. Of course, I teach all levels, so tell all your friends that I exist!

My approach is communicative. This doesn't mean that I will teach you to speak like Tarzan -it means that we will focus on different real-world situations in which you will need to speak Spanish. These situations can either be very formal or extremely informal. There will be also some grammar, vocabulary, and drills, just like any other Spanish course you have taken in the past.

We will use either dialogues of native speakers, or real-world texts (newspapers, advertisement, magazines, websites, etc.). I will teach you to speak Spanish the way native speakers do, so you won't sound corny or overdone when you communicate to other people. However, I don't support cursing, so don't ask me to teach you my favorite swear words in Spanish.

Talk, talk, talk. I will make you talk. Don't be afraid of making mistakes: I've also had to learn other languages and I know how to correct you without making you feel like an idiot. Actually, it's good that you make mistakes: it means that you're learning. Seriously: it's the only way.

As I have been to a few other countries, I have noticed that some kind of things are OK to do or to say in a certain culture, and that others are not OK. We will also talk about that and other cultural matters that are important to know.

Are you looking for answers about very specific grammar/vocabulary issues? I can help you. From the typical is-this-noun-masculine-or-feminine to the when-do-I-have-to-use-subjunctive, I can tell you the answer, and even teach you a few rules.

Do you need to do a very specific task, such as writing a motivation letter or reading technical documents? I can also help you. It may take more time than your thought it would take, but I am commited to teach you how to do it well.

All this, for $10.000/hr.

Are you ready to start speaking Spanish?

jueves, 19 de enero de 2012

Actividades para B1-B2 online

Buscando entre mis archivos, me topé con este material que preparé hace un tiempo atrás. Tiene los siguientes contenidos:

  • Contraste pretéritos: perfecto simple e imperfecto.
  • Uso de presente de subjuntivo.
  • Uso de "se" accidental.
  • Forma perifrástica de pasado (imperfecto de ir + a + infinitivo).

Ya sé: necesita mucho más trabajo. Calma, que para allá vamos.

choosing approaches and methods in language teaching

Even in Academia, I can see how sensitive people are about trendy stuff. In language teaching, the one who tests and supports a certain language teaching philosophy will be always considered as a person who did their homework. However, if you dear to disagree, you're dead. Of course, I'm part of the living dead community who do stuff their way.

When I started teaching SFL, I developed some materials that followed a communicative approach, but my students didn't learn too much; I assume that was because they needed something else. After a few unsuccessful experiences, and thinking a lot about what could have gone wrong, I realized that all the theory I learned in grad school was neither right nor wrong: it was just that people learn in different ways. Not only among each other, but also individually. That made me think about how I learned English and what strategies made me learn and which ones did not. That is how I remembered something I heard some time ago, as an undergrad student, but nobody cared enough to address that issue more thoroughly: learning styles.

Anyway, what is a learning style? Apparently nobody knows well enough, as I've run into some articles discussing how ill-defined the concept of learning style is. Do they actually exist? Are we talking about information processing, attitudes or learning strategies? The matter is still under discussion, although few scholars seem to be interested in clearing this up.

From now on, when I teach my classes, I usually listen to my students' needs and learning styles in order to choose a method that suits them best. How? Easy: I just ask. But not only that: I usually present a set of learning strategies during the first classes and then I check which one shows better results. Here's a few.

  • Dialogue: prepare a short dialogue or monologue. I use Audacity to record them, and it's usually my own voice and/or a friend or family member. It's not that difficult. Dialogues must have a lot of the target forms you want to teach and the length will vary according to the student's level. Also, try to make them sound real: listen to the small talk of random people and/or record normal exchanges of communication (buying groceries, ask for directions, etc.) to see how they sound. Including some noise will not be a bad idea, as that is what actual communication is about. Let them listen to the dialogue first and then make them read a glossary with the main words. (Target: aural and communicative learners).
  • Grammar explanation: Show your students small grammar explanations. Don't get too enthusiastic about this -address ONE grammar issue per class. (Target: analytic learners).
  • Drill: The human being learns through patterns. If they have enough instances to test their acquired language patterns, they'll start using them.  Also, structured, self disciplined students will ditch you if you don't provide them enough practice (Target: authoritary learners). Don't forget that drills are better when done orally.
  • Tasks: Complete communication tasks are good for two reasons. First, it keeps the student motivated, as they're actually feeling that they're using language and learning how to. Some communication tasks do not need to be related to real life stuff; I always think of that communication task proposed by Littlewood (1981) where learner A has a map of a battlefield, learner B has a a similar one but with some missing parts and they have to figure out the way to get from one base to another without being either shot by the enemy or getting stuck in a swamp, forest, lake, etc.
  • Written drills: I'm not too fond of this method, as it seems to be not useful for any of the competences needed to learn a foreign language. Either way, I always have a few, especially when students feel that they need more understanding of the grammar before attempting to communicate verbally. 
So, I am all about approaches and methods, but can't limit myself to using only one of them and claim it's the answer to all questions. I hope I can work on some independent research to prove myself right or wrong.

Vivir en el pasado (y en todos los tiempos verbales)

He leído muchos artículos y libros de gramática buscando usos de los diversos tiempos verbales del español. He disfrutado leyendo páginas de teoría funcionalista, sistémico funcional, generativista y en general, cuanta cosa pase por mis manos. Pero curiosamente, mi favorito sigue siendo el genial Andrés Bello. Por alguna razón, Bello tuvo en su Gramática la suficiente lucidez como para pensar detenidamente en los usos correspondientes a todos los benditos tiempos y modos verbales del español con una claridad que ya cualquier profesor de ELE quisiera para sí. Lo mejor de todo es que Bello presenta las cosas de manera desapasionada, dejando en claro que simplemente así es la cosa

Basándome en las explicaciones de Bello, creé este pequeño resumen sobre los tiempos pretéritos del indicativo, que son los que más trabajo dan en cursos de nivel A2 y B1. Descárgalo aquí para echarle un vistazo y comenta abajo con tus sugerencias.

Teaching Spanish as a foreign language: challenge accepted

So, maybe you've already seen a tear-off flyer with a "me gusta" meme that caught your eye in the Bellas Artes neighborhood in Santiago. That was me.

¿Who am I? I was born and raised in Concepción, an industrial city located 500 kms. to the south of Santiago. I am currently living in both cities, trying to find the way to make a living without kissing butts in Academia or dealing with annoying high school kids. This is how I ended up teaching Spanish for foreigners, an activity that allows me to move around the world, learn languages, knowing interesting people and have my own schedule.

The whole story is: I am a Licenciada en Educación (equivalent to BA in Education) and Profesora de Español (equivalent to a professional degree -sort of a license to teach, too) from the University of Concepción. I also hold a Magister (Master of Arts) degree in Applied Linguistics from the same university. So far, the only job opportunities are either working at a high school (which I already tried and didn't like at all) or at the University (which basically means that I'll have to work as a part-time lecturer until some other professor dies). Even though my heart is absolutely set on this option, I've already had to deal with a bunch of ugly stuff when I was in grad school, including a nasty fight with my own advisor. Fortunately, my thesis project was interesting enough to make her keep working with me, so that I could successfully end my studies with a maximum grade. And when I say "ugly stuff" it's really ugly, although some people like Jorge Cham make it look pretty funny (do not misunderstand me: I'm a big fan of his work as it made me feel less miserable). Trust me, it's not funny when you get stuck for over 3 years trying to finish a goddamn MA degree.

But not everything was bad in grad school. I'll always have to thank my advisor for getting me into the fairly unknown world of teaching Spanish as a foreign language. In Spain, the state of the art is considerably more developed and spread to the actual exercise of teaching than it is here: A low presence of non native speakers of Spanish, along with a poor development of the Humanities disciplines are some of the reasons. However, my advisor managed to teach me the main tenets of the discipline and so far I have been able to develop my own class material, which I would like to publish someday. Meanwhile, I use them in my classes to teach Spanish, which is also growing and improving as I see the impact they have in my students.

miércoles, 18 de enero de 2012

Al agua

Buscando formas de capitalizar mi conocimiento en enseñanza del español como lengua extranjera (ELE), vine a dar con la idea más obvia del mundo: hacer clases particulares. El problema principal es que los institutos de lenguas cobran demasiado caro como para que los extranjeros se animen a tomar clases, de modo que trabajar para un instituto no tiene mucho de inteligente (sobre todo considerando la buena tajada que se lleva). Fue entonces como empecé a pensar en cómo podía dar a conocer mis servicios cuando en un minuto de locura vine a dar con esto:

El problema de crear este tipo de publicidad es que, así como se ganan potenciales clientes, se pierden también otros tantos que no están inmersos en la cultura basura de internet. De todas formas, el meme me pareció ideal, considerando que su nombre original es en español y resume también el nivel de dominio del angloparlante promedio: frases cortas y funcionales, que pueden sacar de apuro en caso de alejarse demasiado del tour guiado.

A pesar de todo, creo que vale la pena asumir el riesgo. Por último, pueden crearse diversas publicidades que clasifiquen como ingeniosas y que no tengan que ser chistes para insiders. En fin, veamos qué sucede.