Sunday, August 23, 2015

Why Spanish 3 is the Right Level for Really Focusing on Grammar

Classes started for me this past week, and Friday I taught my first explicit grammar lesson in level 3 (a review of subject pronouns, their forms and uses.) I used a three-page "packet" copied from a Spanish grammar workbook that I bought on Amazon, the kind of workbook you buy if you're a college student or other adult looking to teach yourself Spanish grammar.

My class had just seen and heard the first skit in my 3A lessons, The Guy Who Fished in the Lake, answered my questions about the skit in Spanish, had a 4-minute break to play on their phones, talk to friends, etc., and then I passed out the grammar packet. Not usually the most-fun thing on the list, but they accepted it meekly and without complaining because we're still new to each other this year.

Then we started going through the information in the packet and filling out the exercises together. I do my grammar worksheets with them, projecting mine on the document camera as we talk about it, reason out the answers, and write everything out together.

Friday in class as we were going over the subject pronouns, I had several "aha" reactions to the grammar details. For example, when we wrote out a sentence that started with "TĂș," I said, "Okay, 'tu' has a what...?" A few students: "Accent mark?" Me: "Yes." (Putting accent mark on it under the document camera.) Me: "When it doesn't have an accent mark on it, it means 'your,' like 'tu perro.'" Several students: "Oh!"

Now, it's not as if they haven't been presented with that information before, possibly many times in levels 1 and 2. But these level 3 students now have some decent fluency. I can speak quite a bit of free-form Spanish to them in class and they can understand and respond. (I gave them an entire talk about the history of Spanish and its connection to Latin in Spanish this past week, of course very simplified, but all in Spanish, and they understood what I was saying and answered questions about it.) At level 3 they are ready to dig into the nuts and bolts of grammar because they have something to hang it on. They have a good basic understanding of Spanish--Spanish the language, not Spanish the rules. Learning the rules of a language you already know makes so much more sense than learning rules alone, when you can't even read the sentences you're filling in the blanks to complete.

All this is not to say that we don't teach explicit grammar in levels 1 and 2 at my school. We certainly do, pretty much every block. But it is to say that the focus (in my opinion) at those levels should always be on developing fluency first, not on learning grammar rules. I can fix up and expand their grammar knowledge just fine in level 3 and beyond if they know Spanish. If they barely know any Spanish, I have to teach them Spanish first before they can really grasp and use the rules, and that just slows down the process.

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