On The Tip of Our Tongue (But We Prefer It Inside Our Bellies)

From the pinnacle of the panhandle to the banks of the Rio Grande, Texans have since their infancy been inextricably connected (like it or not) to the Spanish language.  Whether by the fortified walls of San Antonio de Valero (known to gringos far and wide as “the Alamo”) or the aforementioned river that shares our border with Mexico, the proliferation of Spanish has reached such ubiquitous levels that it may be reasonably considered palpable in the air we breath (and I don’t mean from the enticing waft of chorizo from your local taqueria. But speaking of our taquiera, here’s something that could help you out next time you go- http://www.ehow.com/how_2067430_use-spanish-taco-stand.html).

It was a rough start, but over the past 180 years, I think we’ve made great strides!

While de facto becoming a language that we Tejanos learn subconsciously, more often we find ourselves students of Spanish only while out to eat.  Our voracious appetite for la cocina latina is unfortunately too often commensurate with our linguistic acumen only in that we know all the words on the menu, or at least what food they correspond too (and so our attempted urbane utilization of español comes out with mucho gusto, at least of the gustation persuasion). So once we (and not just talking about Texans anymore, this goes for all monolinguists out there) decide to truly embrace the Spanish language, how do we know what route to take, and which method of learning is best?

A smattering of the Latin cuisine we know and love. Can you call them all by name (and say what that really means)?

In our quest to turn our conversations with over 50 million people into more than “Gracias amigo!” or “Vamanos!”, many of us will secure (through legal means or otherwise) a copy of Rosetta Stone or schlep home a stack of libros de lenguaje  to help us in our journey.[1].  Others will enroll in a local community Spanish course or conversation club to immerse themselves.   More still are already in the process, enrolled in their high school’s Spanish program or involved in volunteer work with native Spanish speakers.

Such impersonal settings are hardly conducive to promoting comfort and confidence in language learning.

While the former, (academic Spanish programs), may seem more practical, studies by educational researcher and theorist John Goodlad demonstrate that a majority of classrooms are suffused with an atmosphere of  “a lot of teacher talk and a lot of student listening” which leads to an implicit “dependence upon authority, linear thinking…and hands-off learning.”[2]  Also, many educators nowadays are preoccupied with the concerns of society and the pressures of expected job performance guidelines (measured often times by standardized test scores and not communicative abilities of the students) and so the system becomes stilted in order for teachers to keep their jobs. [3]  Rather, while not necessarily more enticing in the academic sense for a language learner, the latter (volunteer work with native Spanish speakers) can in fact be more practical for someone desiring to speak the language that would connect them with their aforementioned 50 million neighbors, as opposed to pass an AP test or speak with impeccable grammar skills.

However, for the most optimal learning experience it is critical to mix the element of immersion with an environment focused on a flexible and conversationally based system that promotes grammar through careful exercise and dialogue, as opposed to drilling and lecturing done by a teacher or Powerpoint presentation.   At Homeschool Spanish Academy (HSA), not only do you receive a program that can individually fit your needs in a one-on-one setting, you have the opportunity to learn under the tutelage of an authentic native speaker, who lives and breathes the air of the country that is coexisting with the language you want to speak.   In terms of whether it truly matters to have a native speaker directing your language learning, studies show that especially for young language learners native speakers are preferred over non-native ones. [4]  While judging the efficacy and intelligence of a teacher in this way may seem based upon psychological presuppositions, this preference is nevertheless the case for how a majority of new students perceive their language-learning instructor, and this belief is intertwined with their success.

The warm faces of the ladies of Guatemala…

Through cooperation with HSA, not only do you have the adaptability of  language learning at your time and your pace, unhindered by the pressures of competition and intimidation from peers in a live classroom, but you have the advantage of working with a native Guatemalan who uses Spanish everyday in every facet of her life, and rarely faces the flashing lights of American pop culture and the speak of society.   Even the most immersed native speakers in any country speaking a language that is not their own will be forced to assimilate in minor degrees and come to terms with some interaction in their second tongue.  This can inevitably impact not only their values, but their speech patterns, and result in a Spanish that is a dissonant chord from the harmony of what they once spoke in another land. [5]  These guatemaltecas remain interwoven with the español puro of their country, and so impart the same upon their students.  For those still hooked on the food metaphor, look at it this way- who wouldn’t prefer to eat tortillas fresh from the stand en la calle  made from the loving knowing hands of your local abuelas?

…and the equally warm tortillas they just made.


[1] Spanish learning resources-http://spanish.about.com/library/reviews/aatp-spanish_instructional_books.htm).  I personally am using Madrigal and “Practice Makes Perfect” and am thus far finding both very useful.

[3] Article on the Influence of Standardized Testing on Teacher Evaluation- http://www.procon.org/headline.php?headlineID=005117


[5] Here is an interview on the subject of “Spainglish”- http://www.pbs.org/speak/seatosea/americanvarieties/spanglish/book/

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