spanish outside the classroom

One of my favorite assignments to give my high school Spanish classes was Exploring Spanish Outside the Classroom. They got to choose activities of varying difficulty with corresponding point values, then write up a summary paragraph detailing what they learned from the experience and listing new vocabulary words. The point of the assignment is for the students to see why Spanish is relevant to their lives - what's the big deal? Why are we doing this? If students can't see relevance, why would they waste their time learning it?

Clearly I was not the first Spanish teacher to come up with this assignment. Almost all world language classrooms have some variation of this assignment. And why not? It works. It get the students excited about their language. It includes culture and community. And it's kind of fun!

Now that I have decided to educate my daughter and am no longer in the high school classroom, I am constantly looking for ways to incorporate Spanish into our daily routine. I am actually really struggling with baby talk in Spanish. I mean, I could discuss the merits of magical realism, or summarize Pinochet's regime - making sure to throw in plenty of pluperfect subjunctive- but I'm not sure Pip would care that much. Instead, I am lamenting my profound lack of diaper vocabulary in Spanish.

I have concluded that while I am familiarizing Pip with the Spanish language, I would have to do my own "Spanish Outside the Classroom" assignment to maintain proficiency and acquire new vocabulary. The following is an overview of the methods and media I use to that end. In future posts, I will detail specific examples and delve into the pros and cons of each.

  1. Music           I like to listen to the Spanish pop station on Pandora, iTunes Radio, or Spotify to discover new music. For old standbys, I turn to my Spanish playlist on iTunes that includes plenty of Juanes, Jesse y Joy, Paulina Rubio, Sie7e, Carlos Vives, Fanny Lu, Shakira, and Camila. Music is a great way to learn new vocab, and especially to hear vernacular turns of phrase. 
  2. Movies/TV Did you know you can change the language of some TV shows on Netflix? Under Watch Instantly, click Subtitles and Captions, then change the language to Spanish. You are left with a whole list of American shows and movies to watch en español. From Hercules to Arrested Development, there is quite a variety! Don't forget about foreign flicks like Motorcycle Diaries and La Misma Luna to get some culture as well!
  3. Books          If you happen to find yourself with some spare time, peruse the Spanish section at your local library. Start with YA fiction and work your way up to Isabel Allende. I can't tell you how many new words I have discovered reading aloud baby board books like the Hungry Caterpillar in Spanish. I advise my students to begin with a book they have already read in English so they already know the plot and can focus on the new words. 
  4. Podcasts      For the busy commuter, podcasts are an easy way to passively learn some new phrases. I find these to be especially helpful if you are traveling to a country for a short amount of time. Coffee Break French prepared me to order food, tell my cab driver where to go, and ask for directions when we visited Paris. Similar Spanish podcasts exist, and can be played while you commute, walk on the treadmill, or take the dog for an evening stroll. Just be prepared for some sidelong glances when you repeat "I would like a large coffee," in your language of choice in public. The best part is that podcasts are free to download on iTunes!
  5. Internet       Change your Facebook, Twitter, email, or cell phone to Spanish. Pay attention to the words for "new message" or "retweet." Follow Spanish-speaking athletes, singers, politicians, or writers on Twitter or Instagram. Connect to CNN en Español or other Spanish news sites. 

The truth is, you don't need a fancy Rosetta Stone program or hours of free time to learn or maintain proficiency in another language. All it takes is being intentional about how you use your free time, commute, and screen time during the day. Obviously if we all had unlimited time and funds we would just immerse ourselves in the country of our choice and live the language. But most of us have chosen paths in life where our time and attention is demanded of us. If learning another language is important to you (and it should be!), you will find a way to do it. It does not have to be difficult or expensive; it is merely a commitment and a concerted effort. 

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