The main reason people want to learn a language is to hang out with new, cool people. This week I asked myself, is that what our schools are teaching? I wanted to interview my children to see how well school Spanish helped them do what was most important to teenagers: socializing.
My kids just got back this week from Spain. We went as a family for 10 days, and then they stayed for another couple weeks. They stayed with two families. One was the family of our former exchange student. The other was the grandmother of my daughter’s friend.
I interviewed them to see how it went.
- How well did they feel prepared? What could they do successfully in Spanish?
- In attempting to learn Spanish, what worked? What didn’t?
- If they could spend the next year learning Spanish, what would they focus on?
N, 15 years old—1 year of Spanish
I interviewed N about her experience. Overall, she said that she had a tough time putting words together in a sentence. She understood an impressive amount. For example, in a group of Spanish teenagers speaking at “normal” conversational speed, she could follow the conversation.
What went well
She learned a lot of useful vocabulary in class. Memorizing regular verb conjugations helped her follow who was doing what.
What went badly
Her pronunciation made her feel self-conscious. Trying to put sentences together was daunting.
What her classes could have done better
She really wished that she had the chance to work on more conversation in class. That way she could have learned the skill of putting words (which she knew) together into coherent sentences.
What she would focus on this year
Besides learning more vocabulary, she would really like to focus on speaking. She would like to learn more about sentence structure to teach her “how the sentence should go out.”
I asked if she had a Spanish tutor, what would she want to focus on. She replied clearly that she would like to practice extemporaneous speech. She liked this idea:
Once a week, she could meet with a private teacher. The teacher would announce a conversation topic on the spot, which N would have to talk about. This extemporaneous approach, N thought, approaches real life as closely as you can do so in a class. As the teacher caught vocabulary that would help N, the teacher would take note of it and send her a list at the end of the lesson. Then N would write 1-2 sentences on each new word and memorize the words.
K, 14 years old—no formal Spanish
Overall, K barely uttered a Spanish word. Her accent made her feel self-conscious (people “just laughed” when she spoke), so she shied away from speaking any Spanish. Spending time with the teens, she really wished she could enter into the conversation.
She had fewer specific answers to my questions. Her basic answer was, “Anything!” Any Spanish vocabulary, grammar, or speaking would have helped. She regretted doing as little Duolingo as she did. (Her phone keeps running out of storage so she had to delete the app.)
Neither one of them would want to take Spanish classes in Spain. During that time they want to interact with friends. N was less against the idea. She saw the use—that some intensive speaking several times a week would help—but it still felt strange to her to be in Spain and spend time in school and not with her friends.
I think I’ll use this as a starting point to chat with their Spanish teacher. I’m thinking of getting an iTalki tutor for them, too.