Blog

We teach kids to speak real Spanish. For life.™

by Erica Fischer on May 11, 2012

Connecting Students to Target Language Speakers

Hello again! As promised, here is the summary of a thought-provoking LangChat that took place back in May.

Our moderators asked, How do you connect your students to target language speakers?

Finding Target Language Speakers at Home

Nothing can totally replace face-to-face human interaction, and participants had lots of great ideas for getting students interacting with target language speakers right in their home towns.

For more widely-spoken languages, like Spanish, native speakers of the target language might be a student, maybe even in the same class.

  • @alenord tried something new this year: she had the native speakers in her class use rubrics to assess the non-natives. At first, the native speakers could be rather harsh, but over time became much more tolerant and willing to help the non-native speakers; the two groups came to understand the difficulties of the language better.
  • @DiegoOjeda664 suggested allowing older native speakers of the target language serve as teachers’ aids in lower level classes.
  • @alenord knows of a teacher that collaborates with another teacher at a local elementary school bilingual program. The young bilingual elementary school students write letters to “Santa,” and it’s up to the older students to answer them in the target language.

Bringing in guest speakers is also a good way to stimulate class discussion. Finding guest speakers in the local community is not always as hard as one would think. A student might have a parent who is a native speaker of the target language, who could be invited to speak in class one day. Participants shared that they have invited their own native speaker friends to join their classes for a Q&A session. @muchachitaMJ hopes to connect with a different native speaker for each unit in the coming school year, and to interview them on unit topics (family, music, favorite activities, etc.)

Local colleges and universities can offer a wealth of native speakers. @placido had a student in one of her classes whose dad is law professor; he helped her get five law students from Hispanic Student Association to come talk to her class in small groups. Additionally, many universities have intensive English programs for their incoming freshmen from around the world; these foreign students could be a great resource for younger students, too.

Inviting a native speaker to class just “to talk” to the students can often seem a bit vague, and students often get too shy to engage in conversation with a stranger, especially in a foreign language. To help break the ice and make the most of native speaker visits, @placido has her students write questions for their guest speakers ahead of time. Although shy at first, they warmed up quickly! She also suggested asking a guest to bring some relevant object(s) or pictures to share to get a conversation going and to help teach about the target language culture.

Teachers living in areas with large immigrant communities might help their students get in touch with immigrants’ rights groups or other social organizations. When field trips are an option, participants have seen positive results when they took their students to ethnic neighborhoods. @SraCasey even took her students on a field trip to a Mexican restaurant for an immersion experience!

Of course, such trips are easiest for widely spoken languages like Spanish, and for those living in urban areas. Nevertheless, @CoLeeSensei has found a way to get her students engaging with Japanese speakers by taking them to areas in her city that are popular with tourists.

Using Technology to Connect Students with Target Language Speakers Abroad

Regardless of how widely the target language is spoken in the participants’ countries, almost everyone has turned to technology to help their students interact with native target language speakers.

Participants were used Skype to connect their students with their own friends and family abroad. However, large time differences often became an issue. To get around scheduling problems, some participants had their contacts record responses to their students’ questions using Google Voice and MailVU.

Many sites offer fantastic ways to seek out contacts around the world.

  • For schools that have advanced videoconferencing equipment, @AudreyMisiano recommended CAPspace, a portal for videoconference projects, as a way for teachers to find other schools around the world to collaborate with on projects.
  • @AudreyMisiano has also found Edmodo to be a great resource for connecting with native speakers.
  • @SECottrell had her students tweet with native speakers by searching interesting key words. She was even able to find two schools abroad to collaborate with using Twitter.
  • Often, schools abroad are looking for ways to help their students practice English. To ensure that his students did not waste all their time speaking English, he asked that the foreign students speak English, and that his students answer back in Spanish.

To increase awareness of foreign social and political issues, @DiegoOjeda66 encouraged his fellow participants to get their classes involved in social projects overseas, and to connect with organizations using Skype or e-mail.

  • @placido has had her students connect with a local immigrants’ rights group. They will be sending letters to children in Guatemala.
  • @alenord recently established contact with a humanitarian group supporting Oaxacan street children.

Something as simple as placing a phone call can build students’ confidence in the target language. Using Skype credit and international phone cards can be the key to connecting students to real-life target language practice. @DiegoOjeda66 has had his students call Uruguay, Bolivia, and Venezuela to inquire about their capital cities’ flag colors. Students might place calls to businesses in foreign countries, asking about movie times or store inventories. @DiegoOjeda66 also recommended listening to authentic radio shows and then calling or writing to journalists.

Quality of Expression and Non-Native Target Language Speakers

@alenord raised the issue of quality when choosing a guest speaker. How important is it to bring in someone who uses perfect grammar and avoids slang and idiomatic expression? @SECottrell acknowledged that this is a “ fuzzy issue,” but agreed with @placido in recognizing that idiomatic expression is reality that students will encounter when they take their learning beyond the classroom.

@SECottrell brought up a good point: are the only target language speakers worth talking to native speakers? What about highly proficient, non-native speakers? @SECottrell shared her belief that any proficient speaker can provide good input for beginning language learners. @placido said she loves to bring in former students who have studied abroad, and @CoLeeSensei shared that she often uses former students to show that study goes beyond high school. Interactions with proficient non-native speakers can provide inspiration to beginning learners, keeping them from getting discouraged by showing them that they, too, can aspire to the same level of proficiency.

Many thanks to all our participants for their engagement and valuable contributions, and a special thanks to our moderators, @placido and @secottrell!

Keep suggesting future LangChat topics, and get excited for our regular LangChat schedule to resume on August 2nd, 8pm EST!

#LangChat is an independent group of world-language education professionals who come together every week via Twitter to share ideas and discuss pressing issues in the world of education. Check out the #LangChat wiki for more information about our goals and the team behind it all here. These weekly discussion summaries are sponsored by Calico Spanish as a service to the world-language community.

Erica Fischer
Erica is the founder and CEO of Calico Spanish. Her passion for teaching her own children to speak Spanish led her to create Calico Spanish. Our mission is to give all children the opportunity to learn to speak real Spanish for life.

One comment

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

This site uses cookies to improve your experience. Click I accept to consent. More info: Privacy Policy