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

by Erica Fischer on Aug 13, 2012

Maintaining and Developing L2 Skills as an L2 Teacher

Last Thursday our participants engaged in a thoughtful discussion about how foreign language teachers can maintain and enhance their own language skills.

Maintaining one’s own language skills has its challenges. Many participants cited time as one of the biggest factors: by the end of the school day, everyone is exhausted, and many have family responsibilities. Other obstacles include a lack of diversity in one’s community (meaning few to no native target language speakers). Even when educators make an effort to do foreign language meet-ups, scheduling can prove difficult, especially for those with small children to care for.

Fortunately, in our increasingly globalized world, and with the help of the internet, there are more opportunities than ever for language teachers to maintain and enhance their own language skills so that they can better serve their students. Participants emphasized the importance of continually seeking opportunities to develop interpersonal, interpretive, and presentational skills, through listening, speaking, reading, and writing.

Simple Solutions

Although there are a myriad of ways to absorb and engage in the target language, participants shared some simple ways to practice the target language in everyday life – ones that don’t require special materials, subscriptions, or even an internet connection!

@senoralopez has both her phone and computer set to Spanish, while @Marishawkins has her ATM card set to Spanish and receives e-mails from her bank in Spanish. Participants might also consider setting their Facebook or Twitter account to the target language as a simple way of ensuring a small level of target language engagement beyond the classroom each day.

In previous #LangChat discussions, participants talked about the goal of using only the target language in the classroom. But on Thursday, @msfrenchteach pointed out another benefit of working towards this goal: it means increased use of the target language for the teacher, too! Speaking practice is still useful, even if it’s not with native speakers.

Strange as it may sound, another way to practice without the presence of native speakers is by speaking to oneself! Several participants admitted speaking to themselves in the target language, and found it to be good practice. @CalicoTeach has found that it helps improve production speed and fluency. @alenord sometimes pretends she’s talking to her husband in Spanish. @msfrenchteach shared that while few people like to hear or watch recordings of themselves speaking, she expects it of her students, so she makes herself do it, too.

Listening: Music, Radio, and Podcasts

One fun and easy way that many participants work on their own target language skills is by listening to music. @alenord enhances her listening experience by paying attention to the wording of song lyrics, and by looking up lyrics later. As @dr_dmd pointed out, music is an excellent way to tap into the current uses of the target language, and especially for keeping up with slang.

The internet makes foreign language radio accessible to everyone with an internet connection through streaming. Participants with iPads have found them to be especially useful tools, as they can download the apps for major foreign news companies. @dr_dmd has apps for Radio France, RFI, Radio Canada; he also likes RFI.fr for podcasts. @julieeldb00 listens to BBC Mundo.

Since participants cited time as the biggest obstacle to practicing their own language skills, @stephkrenz had a great recommendation: listening to foreign language audiobooks while driving!

Movies and TV Shows

Authentic target language films and TV series are another popular way to keep up language skills, along with cultural and historical knowledge. Many such target language movies and shows are accessible online. Netflix has a good selection of films in a variety of languages, although unfortunately it does not let viewers turn off the English subtitles for foreign films. It is also possible to add a foreign language channel to your cable or satellite package. @dr_dmd, for example, gets TV5Monde (a major French television channel) at home; he sometimes records French programming for later viewing. @CalicoTeach has even watched Spanish-language telenovelas (soap operas) at the local Mexican market!

Participants shared some of their favorite films in their target languages. For French, @lauren_schryver recommended “Jean de Florette,” “Manon des Sources,” “Cyrano de Bergerac,” “L’Argent de Poche,” and “Le Maître de Musique.” To that list, @dr_dmd added “Le Hussard sur le toit” and “Bleu.” For Spanish films, @senoraCMT recommended “La Misma Luna,” “Voces Inocentes,” “Cautiva,” “Sugar,” and “Pan’s Labyrinth.” She also shows these films to her students, although she sometimes skips certain scenes or asks parents to sign a permission slip for those films that contain more mature content.

Reading

Reading is another excellent way to keep up skills in the target language. Participants enjoy novels of both the classic and “beach read” genres, as well as magazines and newspapers. @dr_dmd pointed out that e-readers like Kindle and nook make access to target language materials easier than ever.

  • @ProfaEsp is reading the popular young adult novel The Hunger Games in its Spanish translation (Los Juegos del Hambre). @CalicoTeach read the Harry Potter series in Spanish, too. @senoraCMT also recommends lighter “candy reads” as an easy and enjoyable way to maintain fluency.
  • @dr_dmd, on the other hand, prefers native texts in L2 over translations.
  • The library at @lauren_schryver’s school subscribes to Paris Match, which is basically the French equivalent of People magazine in the US.
  • @dr_dmd recommends Le francais dans le monde, a magazine published by the International French Teachers Federation, which contains lots of articles and fiches pédagogiques.

Writing: Stories, Tweets, and Blogs

While listening and reading opportunities in the target language (input) are relatively prevalent, it can be hard to practice target language output – especially when it comes to writing. @dr_dmd suggests writing creative stories on your own to use in your classroom later. Twitter provides a way to engage in target language writing, albeit on a small scale. Others suggested making a professional blog in the target language, and updating it regularly. Many of our participants have their own blogs already!

Communication with Other Target Language Speakers

Everyone agreed that engaging with other target language speakers (ideally native ones) remains one of the best ways to maintain and enhance skills.

Participants shared tips for how to connect with target language speakers in the local community.

  • @lauren_schryver has two colleagues who are native speakers; she has asked them to correct her when she makes mistakes, and she takes note of these corrections and writes down new vocabulary.
  • A few participants have volunteered as medical interpreters at local clinics and find it to be a great way to gain new skills while helping others at the same time.
  • In some areas, teachers and cultural groups may organize “meet-ups” as a chance for target language speakers to practice together. For example, @lauren_schryver shared that there are monthly meet-ups for French teachers in the San Francisco Bay Area.
  • Nearby universities may offer target language speaking opportunities as well.

Of course, connecting with fellow target language speakers will be easier in certain areas, and with certain languages, than others. In those cases, resources like Skype provide opportunities to engage with native target language speakers around the world.

  • @msfrenchteach communicates regularly via Skype and e-mail with a colleague in Paris regarding a virtual exchange project they are working on.
  • @MmeCaspari found a partner for practicing Spanish via Mixxer: http://t.co/332QfXVt
  • @CalicoTeach used Speakshop to practice speaking with a native speaker in Guatemala. She finds the company to be well-organized and to offer good instruction from language teachers in Guatemala for reasonable prices. As a side benefit, part of the revenue from each lesson supports development projects in Guatemala.
  • @paulinobrener will be running free conversations sessions for Spanish language teachers. More information can be found on his site: http://t.co/fBeLcvC7
  • @dr_dmd said that we could consider setting up ePals opportunities for teachers through #LangChat. He asked that those who are interested post on the #LangChat wiki: http://t.co/HIUBk2SG

Professional development is an important way for language teacher to continue growing as educators and as target language speakers. @dr_dmd recommends joining professional organizations like the ACTFL, as well as state and local groups, and to take advantage of professional development days. He shared that most state language professional organizations offer opportunities for L2 practice through workshops and virtual connections. @julieeldb00 also recommended the Concordia Language Villages in Minnesota, which offer programs for educators and professional development.

Foreign Travel

Finally, participants touted the importance of travel to engage with native target language speakers in an immersion setting. This travel can be personal, or with a group of students. @senoraCMT takes a group of students on a relevant trip every other year. @dr_dmd recommended that French speakers consider humanitarian volunteer opportunities in Haiti and Francophone Africa during the summer; he has taken his sons on long trips to Africa, and found them to be life-changing. The National Endowment for the Humanities offers opportunities for travel; @dr_dmd once spent a summer in Senegal through an NEH program.

Another great #LangChat with our wonderful participants! Many thanks to all, and especially to our moderators, dr_dmd and @CalicoTeach!

Keep suggesting topics for future discussions, and don’t forget to join us for our next #LangChat, this coming Thursday, August 16th at 8pm EST/5pm PST. See you there!

#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.

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