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Every year, Americans around the nation get together to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month from September 15th through October 15th. The contributions Hispanic Americans have made to the United States are endless and inspiring, and they have had a profound and positive impact on our county.

The Inevitable Reading Freak-Out - Resources for your Spanish Classroom

By Spanish Classroom 1188 Views
Oct 07

Anne Silva

I think, when it comes to learning languages, there seem to be two types of people out there: those who see or hear an unknown language and are intrigued and fascinated, and those who encounter a foreign language and go running for the hills, at least mentally. If you are a Spanish teacher, you are most likely one of the former; I know I am. I once bought a newspaper in Euskera just so I could see how much I could understand. My students, on the other hand… let’s just say they are a good representation of both types. I once handed out an article for my middle school students to read and immediately got panic and mayhem, and actually had to point out OUT LOUD that the article WAS IN ENGLISH. Jeez.

It’s natural, right? To have a little “eek” reaction when faced with a text or audio that seems daunting. It takes our minds a little bit of time to switch over to “listening in Spanish” or “reading in Spanish,” even if we are extremely fluent in the language. And no matter how skilled we are in the language, reading or listening in a second (or third) language usually takes more effort, more attention, and much more of our brain, than in our native language. So when faced with reading or listening to something in Spanish, our students are often caught off guard, thus the “fight or flight” reaction to something as simple as an article or story in Spanish.

So here’s a lesson idea, to give our students a little more confidence and calm down that inevitable reading freak-out that happens anytime students are presented with a text that is outside the scope of their everyday interactions with Spanish:

First, find a website or newspaper article in some language that is totally outside your students’ scope of experience—say, Korean, or Bengali. (This is where the Internet is awesome.) Have students just look at it and ask them a few questions:

  • What kind of source is this? How do you know? (A novel, a newspaper, a magazine, a blog, an email, etc.)
  • What do you think it’s about, in very general terms? Why do you think that? (Point to the format; formatting like bold headlines, bulleted lists, etc.; graphs or charts, photos and other visual elements, etc.)
  • Do you see anything you recognize? (Even on the Bengali newspaper I visited, I saw a photo of an Argentinean soccer player, the “Google +” and Facebook icons, and the word “plus” in English.)
  • Do you see any elements repeated? What might they mean? Why do you think that? (On the newspaper’s website, I saw this: ২৬ সেপ্টেম্বর, ২০১৪, repeated at the bottom of every news blurb, which I might assume is the date, or perhaps “click here to read more” or something like that.)

Now, this activity requires a calm mind, which might be the first challenge to overcome. But if you guide your students through it, they might find that they “understand” even more of this completely foreign text than they originally thought!

After doing the exercise with this VERY unknown language, try it again with an article in a more closely related language to Spanish or English: say, French, Portuguese, or German. After applying those same questions as in the first activity, THEN students can start to actually look at the language itself, to see what words and structures they recognize or can infer. They might find that they understand a good amount of what the article is trying to convey, without even “knowing” the language!

And finally, try the same exercise with an article in Spanish. By this point, students should be getting the point that “you know more than you think you know” when it comes to “reading the page.”

Do you have any similar strategies when it comes to avoiding the “freak-outs”? How do you get students to approach reading authentic texts in a calm and positive way?

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Every year, Americans around the nation get together to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month from September 15th through October 15th. The contributions Hispanic Americans have made to the United States are endless and inspiring, and they have had a profound and positive impact on our county.

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