25 minute Spanish lesson
November 21, 2013 5:54 AM   Subscribe

Tell me what topics would make you excited to learn a foreign language.

As the primer (and only) full time Spanish instructor at my college, one of the unofficial parts of my job description is to get people interested in the Spanish language and hopefully in signing up for Spanish classes. We are a small community college with an even smaller array of Spanish classes to offer. An opportunity has fallen into my lap to teach a 25 minute "mock" lesson to one of the "Intro to Collegiate Life" classes. So . . . what do I do?

Here's what I DON'T need help with:
- I want the lesson to be as immersive as possible. I will speak to them entirely in Spanish. Assume that I can do this in a way they will be able to understand and not get frustrated.
- I want the lesson to be interactive and get them moving around the room. I want them to be talking to each other in Spanish. I will probably use flash cards and have the students put them in order or take on the role of whatever is written on the card, etc.

So . . . what should the topic be? What would have made YOU excited to take Spanish or motivated you to learn more about the language you were just able to use in a 25 minute class? I want something basic enough that most of the class will be able to participate in the activity and use the language, and also interesting enough that afterwards they will say, "Wow! I wish I knew more Spanish!"
posted by chainsofreedom to Education (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm currently driving with a set of Spanish language lessons on CD: what I find useful about it is it's emphasis on practical language.... where is the hotel? Can you tell me where the restaurant is? Hello, my name is x; pleased to meet you.

On the other hand, I remember my very unsuccessful French classes way back in school: this is a pencil. This is a library. Where is the window?

The point being, if you go to visit a Spanish-speaking country, it'll be a lot more useful to be able to ask for directions or to introduce yourself, rather than telling someone to throw a pencil out the library window. Imagine what would be most useful to a tourist, and start from there.
posted by easily confused at 6:01 AM on November 21, 2013

Can it be an [xyz] en Espanol class? Knitting in Spanish - Spanish Dinner Party. Charades? Murder Mystery? Then again, I just downloaded this last night ...
posted by tilde at 6:10 AM on November 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

How to meet hot people who speak Spanish!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:14 AM on November 21, 2013 [5 favorites]

You have 25 minutes. Not a lot of time, but maybe enough to master a few words and phrases for a specific situation. Small talk. A discussion of the weather maybe.

Of course no one is excited to speak about the weather, but the idea is to be able to TALK with someone. The subject isn't important. Weather is apolitical, easy to understand, everyone has an opinion. It's the traditional, conventional, universal subject for small talk.
posted by three blind mice at 6:23 AM on November 21, 2013

This will be a one-off experience, right? And addressing what kind of an audience?

If you are addressing a general population of students, with varying degrees of familiarity with Spanish - from zero to fluent - then it would be best to focus on something demonstrative rather than educational (in a traditional sense).

When I was in high school, we had a geometry teacher who always used to spot-check an issue by saying to a student, "jph, if someone jumped out of a cab and asked you to do advise them on _________, what would you tell them about [for example] the angles made by a line bisecting two parallel lines." He focused on real world applications because he knew that most kids saw math as being a distant and useless skill. Show them or tell them about interesting scenarios that they might find themselves in.

Talk about the Camino de Santiago and help them imagine getting lost when they misunderstand someone's directions. Mention romance from a tall, dark and handsome foreign stranger, and how they might miss out on it if they don't understand how to flirt. Be ridiculous with things like a bomb about to explode on a bus - would they be able to save us all if the emergency dispatch was telling them which wire to cut in Spanish? Show them family dramedy from a telenovela, complete with face slapping and emotion exclusively conveyed using eyebrows - which is guaranteed to pique interest about what must be happening. If they had to order in a spanish speaking part of the world, could they be really sure that they were getting mole and not menudo? And then of course there is the whole list of false cognates that can lead to hilarious misunderstanding, or mistaken bad translations like "yo soy caliente" v. "hace calor."

Even if you just stick to the very last suggestion, you'll win a lot more fans (and consequently potential students) by using humor in a format that young folks understand. All of them will have seen Engrish signs from Asia, and they'll think that type of cultural misunderstanding is hilarious.
posted by jph at 6:59 AM on November 21, 2013

I live in the Northeastern US (so YMMV) but I'd say about 10% of the conversations I hear now are in Spanish. I'm sure that's going to grow a lot before I die.

I took a few years of Spanish and dabbled in podcasts, but it was all tourism or school centered. And I'm pretty sure the Spanish speakers around me are not talking about hotels or taxis or ordering beer. They are talking about Obama and Scandal and possibly the weather and maybe where they ate last night for dinner.

I want to understand my neighbors and the people on the train with me each day. Teach me how to say Kim Kardashian's dress was too small or that Quinn is going crazy.
posted by kimberussell at 7:09 AM on November 21, 2013

Also, although you didn't ask for advice on this front:

I think you need to consider something a little less pedagogical for this. Teaching a mock "lesson" is already pedagogically shaky - which I'm sure you know. Without reinforcement and context, you're essentially teaching into the void. But also, as with so many things, the act of DOING the learning is far less interesting and engaging than the endpoint. (I'm eternally grateful that my parents made me take Spanish, and it's great that I know it now, but if someone ever tried to sell me on the language by teaching me how to conjugate a verb I'd run screaming into the night.) I'd focus on the endpoint. Consider this to be a dog and pony show, showing off the language and the culture that students will have access to when the apply themselves. You might show them some demographic statistics about households where a language other than English is primarily spoken. Here in Houston, that's close to half of all households, with a huge percent of those being Spanish.

I would caution you against using an immersive/interactive experience if your students have little or no experience in the target language, especially if this is a compulsory activity which they haven't actively signed up for (that's not completely clear from your description). Immersive experiences can be really intimidating and may have the absolute opposite effect from what you intend. I have a certain bandwidth for immersion, after which my ears turn to stone, my mind wanders and I completely shut out whatever is going on around me. It can be overwhelming in the worst way. And I say this as someone who *loves* studying foreign languages.

Be extra careful about the interactive portion of the exercise, if this is a compulsory activity that all students enrolled in "Intro to College Life" have to take part in whether they're interested or not. The combination of "lack of language skills" and "have to be here" is a guaranteed recipe for your entire class sitting there for 20 minutes talking about The Hunger Games.

My reading of the situation may not be right - you might be offering this class to anyone who is curious about Spanish, in which case the engagement level will be higher and they'll be more likely to take part in the activity. But the immersion issue still holds.
posted by jph at 8:20 AM on November 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

To clarify:

Oh goodness no, I do NOT want to be teaching grammar. The most grammar that I would want to point out would be gendered adjectives - if that!

This is compulsory, as in, the Intro to Collegiate Life teacher is bringing her students to my classroom during their normal class time.

It is also a one-off experience with a general student population. Intro to Collegiate Life classes tend to pull more "traditional" students (18 and 19 year olds) who plan to transfer to a university.
posted by chainsofreedom at 8:30 AM on November 21, 2013

I will speak to them entirely in Spanish. Assume that I can do this in a way they will be able to understand and not get frustrated.

If these are absolutely beginners whom you are trying to convince to start studying Spanish, they will not understand and they will get frustrated. I really recommend having the class be almost entirely in English. Give a talk about why *you* got interested in Spanish and stuck with it to the point that you can now teach it.

I've mentioned it on the green before, but asking "what would have made YOU excited to take Spanish or motivated you to learn more about the language you were just able to use in a 25 minute class?" is like asking what sort of 25 minute class could motivate a person to run a marathon. I think the best you can do is talk about your passion for Spanish. I do not recommend anything didactic.
posted by Tanizaki at 8:42 AM on November 21, 2013

You should check out some of the Germanpod101 Newbie lessons (yes, it's German, but same principle applies).

They have nice little 10 minute interactions you're likely to have if visiting/studying abroad somewhere ("Is this seat free?" "Hi, I'm so-n-so" "What do you do?" "You from around here?" getting to know you questions; also how to order drinks/food, what the waitress might say to you; being invited to a gathering and what people might say there or ask you). Very practical stuff in a practical setting that you can actually see 20-somethings using. They add a small vocab and grammar lesson and a cultural lesson (like "only address someone by their first name if they say it's ok first"). All in a 15 minute self-deprecating podcast.
posted by melissasaurus at 8:44 AM on November 21, 2013

I'm currently studying my masters in TESOL. Most of my class (except me) speak another language fluently. So we were required to give five minutes presentation in that language. And we had to have the class interact! Here are some of the subjects:

1. Cooking lesson
2. Lesson in colors. You were given a sweet in that color and should identify it
3. A kind of lesson where you stand up and touch body parts (like head, shoulders, knees and toes or the hokey pokey)
4. A lesson on seasons where we all named our own season
5. A lesson with animals. You were told the name of some animals. Then you get into groups and someone has to 'pretend' to be that animal and the others would name the animal in that language
6. Going shopping and asking for popular items you forgot when travelling (this was my lesson, heh)
7. Nationalities and introducing nationalities (If your classroom is multinational PLEASE be careful with this one!!!)
8. Conversations and introductions
9. Conversations and introductions, but this time we all got into a group and introduced ourselves and shook hands. Very interactive and nice!
10. Introducing numbers in language and then playing bingo in that language (this one was in Spanish)
11. Learning how to say 'I like....' in a language and given vocabulary.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 8:53 AM on November 21, 2013

I'm going to repeat what I posted in another post about teaching spanish: do a pantomime of waking up in the morning.

Here's what my French teacher did:

He acted out a little skit that he called "What will you do tomorrow morning?" He told us that question just one time in English, then translated it into French and had us repeat that question in French, and then he did all the rest by acting out the answers and speaking in French only. never using English for the answers. Note that he used the "I'm going to..." (Voy a...) form of the verbs, so that the we learned the sound of the infinitives.

I'm going to wake up. (Yawn, and stretch your arms over your head)
I'm going to get out of bed. (act all these out...)
I'm going to walk to the bathroom.
I'm going to wash my face.
I'm going to brush my teeth.
I'm going to brush my hair.
I'm going to get dressed.
I'm going to walk to the kitchen.
I'm going to make breakfast.
I'm going to eat breakfast.
I'm going to pick up my books.
I'm going to walk to school.
I'm going to say 'hello' to my teacher.
posted by CathyG at 5:16 PM on November 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

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