Sunday, September 20, 2015

READING and My 2nd Language Journey

If you speak more than one language, you have a story to tell about how you became bilingual. When those stories are shared, openly and honestly, we can study them, compare them, and find common factors that helped move the learner forward in his/her proficiency in the language. In my language journey below, there was the usual formal teaching of grammar rules and vocabulary, followed by tests on those areas. However, that is not what made the biggest impact on my language abilities.

(This is the first time I wrote publicly about my language journey. It wasn't the easiest post to write, but as I said above, I wrote it to share what has been most beneficial to me in improving my language proficiency. The purpose of this blog post is not to share my grades in college, but rather to show that students can figure out how to successfully play the Grade Game. Good grades doesn't always accurately measure one's language proficiency. I am still on my Language Journey and I continue to learn each day.)

My language journey followed this path:
High School - freshman year, Spanish 1
College - (16 yrs & 3 children later; obviously I was a non-traditional student)
- Freshman year: Spanish 101 & 102
- Sophomore year - Spanish 201  
- Junior & senior years - changed my major to Spanish, studied abroad in Spain
Graduated college, summa cum laude, with a Spanish degree 

Returned to college, after birth of my 4th child, to complete student teaching requirement; obtained my teaching certification.

Honest thoughts and reflections on my language journey at college:
1. College level Spanish 101, 102, 201, 202, are full speed ahead! If you didn't have 4 years of Spanish at the high school level, (which I didn't) the pace of these college classes means acquisition rarely takes place. 
The Grade Game?
2. If you're serious about Spanish, getting A's is very attainable - for me it was easy. In beginning and intermediate classes, it required memorizing lists of vocabulary, understanding how to conjugate, knowing cultural facts - easy. Upper level classes were more demanding, but I obtained A's by completing the requirements on the syllabi and doing well on assessments.
3. A's on a college transcript don't accurately equate the level of one's proficiency in the language. (Often, fast-paced classes encourage "studying" in a manner that puts the material in the short-term memory.)
4. My semester in Spain was worth the money and major inconveniences. (I was married with 3 children at the time). With only a few exceptions, I think colleges should require this.
5. Even though I obtained all A's, with the exception of one B+, 
in my Spanish college courses, many times I felt I should have retaken the previous level or should have retaken some of my upper level classes.  I was happy with my grades; I wasn't happy with my proficiency level. (If I got A's and wasn't happy with my proficiency, what does that say about those getting B's and, gasp, C's?) Surely, I'm not the only one that felt that way.

So there I was, a Spanish education graduate with my impressive college transcript, was offered a job and was ready to start teaching 3 months after graduating. But there was one problem: I wasn't satisfied with my language abilities. I knew that I wasn't where I wanted to be with my Spanish proficiency.

That's when I started making trips to the community library and checked out   books in Spanish. I started with very young children's books, then moved to children's books with more text, some of which were bilingual. (I don't know how many hundreds of Spanish children's books the Lebanon Community Library has, but I've read the majority of them, or at least the majority of the ones they had 12-15 years ago.) From there I progressed to young adult readers, and eventually to full-fledged novels.   

Reading gently pushed my proficiency in the language higher and higher. 
My vocabulary grew from reading books, not from memorizing vocabulary lists, grouped by themes or topics. Verb tenses started to make sense to me because I saw them in context. The more time I spent reading in Spanish, the less I needed my trusty verb conjugation book (the one that I dragged with me to Spain to help me make sense of those 16+ verb tenses).  I understood the syntax of the language, and word order fell in place. I discovered that when I spoke in Spanish, I knew words that I had no idea I knew.

When I look back over my language journey, I clearly see the positive impact from READING. The money I spent on college to "learn" Spanish can't begin to compare to the gains I made in proficiency from reading books at the free local library.  

My language journey hasn't ended. I continue to learn daily and I continue to read novels in Spanish (my Amazon account confirms that!).

My personal experience of the power of reading, plays a big part in why I make it a priority to include a reading component in each of my lesson plans. It's also one of the reasons why I embrace TPRS, Teaching Proficiency through READING and Storytelling.  Reading, at the appropriate level, can help students to make big gains in their proficiency. 

My language journey at college, progress made from reading books from the local library, and teaching has made the following clear to me:
- Acquisition occurs when we are exposed to comprehensible input. 
- You can't speed up language acquisition
- If you rush through material, your students will resort to studying and memorizing.  They'll get good grades but won't be able to speak well in the language.
- If you assess materials that can be studied and memorized, the result of those assessments don't give a clear picture on the students' abilities; they're invalid.
- A's mean nothing if they are not connected to a student's proficiency in the language.
- Creating valid assessments is not accurately addressed in universities.
- The majority of students, high school or university level, are very well aware of their language abilities, or lack of abilities. They know when the assessment you gave them doesn't correctly measure their abilities. They may breath a sigh of relief because they got a good grade, but they know it's not valid.
- If your students are asking you what they need to study for the test - that's a problem.
- Reading is input that each individual reader has the power to control the pace.
- The "flow" in reading is an amazing experience.  It happens when you are reading a novel and forget that it's not in your first language.

Those are a few of my reflections.  More may be added in the next few weeks or months.

Of what has your language journey consisted? What has pushed you to higher proficiency in your 2nd, 3rd, etc. language? 

1 comment:

  1. Wow! I have had a very similar experience! Our state and district are pushing proficiency through the I can statements but don't necessarily recognise the value of nor encourage the use of TPRS. I love your blog and am so grateful for teachers like you who are willing to share!