Methods Of Learning Spanish

By: Douglas Bower

My purpose in this series (which I failed to make clear, apparently, from the beginning) has been to do two things. One is to show the progression of second language acquisition instruction in its historical development through 350-word articles. The second is see who is still using these methods, if any are using them at all. The point I've wanted to make regarding the Translation Method of Second Language learning is that though in its strictest sense it may not be used today to teach second language acquisition, I believe a version of it still is being used, only now, there is a conversation component added to the translating of written text.

Students majoring in a modern foreign language can easily come out of an undergraduate or even graduate program and still have exceedingly poor speaking skills in the target language. They can read, write, and exegete written text but have poor accents and little to no speaking proficiency. Some are lucky enough to study abroad but not all do so for a host of reasons. If those who study abroad aren't very disciplined and hang out with other English speakers between classes, they miss out on the much-needed exposure to the target language.

Also, I have not attempted to present these methods as they occurred chronologically in their historical context. The purpose is to show the fact that a host of mythologies existed (exist). Some fell by the wayside while others remain in various combinations or versions.

The overall point of my series is that these methods were created in an attempt to engage learners in classrooms. The reason for the failure of many of the methods is that they simply could not work within the context of public school classrooms with forty or more students. I believe the quest is far from over to find an effective way to teach students a foreign language in a group context.

The Comprehension Approach, utilizing a host of methods, is probably the best way to induce second language acquisition within a classroom setting. This would use the following:

a. before learners are taught speaking, there should be a period of training in listening comprehension;

b. comprehension should be taught by teaching learners to understand meaning in the target language;

c. the learners' level of comprehension should always exceed their ability to produce language;
d. productive language skills will emerge more naturally when learners have well developed comprehension skills;

e. such an approach reflects how children learn their first language. - Other Second Language Teaching: http://www.auburn.edu/~nunnath/engl6240/othermet.html

The sense I get is that all of the methods, within classroom settings, are destined to fail. You didn't learn your native tongue and obtain the high degree of spoken fluency you had when Mom packed you off to first grade in the context of desks, chalkboards, and forty other individuals. And, spoken fluency is what the average American learner is after. In a classroom, it seems second language acquisition will always be reduced to an academic endeavor. Grammar rules and vocabulary words have to be memorized and a conversation class may be thrown in to justify not calling it a Translation Method approach. I could be wrong.

I believe some of the methods I've covered, and will cover, can work well in an individual or very small group context. A husband and wife preparing to live in Mexico could very well employ a home study course using, for example, The Natural Method, and make great progress before coming to Mexico. They could also hire a tutor who would just chat or follow some sort of curriculum that employs one of the methods of second language acquisition that works better one-on-one or one-on-two.

My wife and I have achieved greater progress using some of the methods that are no longer applicable within a classroom setting. We've used commercially available products designed around The Natural Method, The Silent Method, and The Direct Method. We've more or less stayed out of the classroom. We will join the classroom one day. However, for right now, we seem to be doing well.

That we can go to a monolingual Mexican doctor, discuss our medical issues and understand his or her instructions seems to be a litmus test for us right now. We can do this and do so with few problems.

We can hold an adult conversation with monolingual Mexicans and discuss the news, weather, and sports with few problems.

One day, we will be at the point of composing and reading more complex Spanish literature.

But, we are crawling before we start walking or running linguistically.

We've sought to put the horse before the cart. So far, it's working.

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