Harry Potter: Mi Placer Culposo

I have a new guilty pleasure–or should I say, un nuevo placer culposo. It masquerades as a virtue, which is why I feel guilty. I’m pretty far gone, but public confession may yet save me, so I’ll give it a try.

I, a middle-aged woman with much better things to do, have been binge-reading Harry Potter Book Six…for the fourth time. In Spanish. So I get to call it Spanish practice and feel good about myself.

But really, I’m just binge-reading Harry Potter because…shh…I love it.

Of course that’s not my only form of Spanish study. I have a couple of textbooks, a DVD, and a group of friends with the same earnest desire to converse without undue embarrassment with the many Spanish-speaking folks in our little community. We meet regularly to go over our exercises and hold stilted conversations. I love my little practice group, but the Harry Potter idea –I have no desire to share that with anyone.

Just give me Harry Potter Y El Misterio del Principe (all the titles are different), my Google Translate, and pen + paper, and I can lie on the couch for HOURS, reading aloud to myself as though I were my own ten year-old.

Oh, homework time? Yay!

Oh, homework time? Yay!

Why Book Six? Well…heh…I figured I’ve re-read Books One through Five so VERY often that they wouldn’t prove enough of a challenge, being engraved in my brain and all. And I gave myself a binge-read of Book Seven (in English) for Christmas.

Hi, my name is Gretchen, and I’m a Potterhead. (¿Soy una Pottercabeza?)

The bad news is, I love this “practice” so much, it’s pushed aside most of my other reading. And at my few-pages-per-hour pace, I’m falling a bit behind my own reading list.

Also, my Spanish muttering is keeping my Mate awake.

The good news–I’m learning a TON of vocabulary! Now if I can just find someone in town who wants to discuss varitas magias (magic wands)…

Y ahora, discúlpeme, pero tengo que practicar.

 

 

 

 

Move Over, Hogwarts: These Students Really Are Getting Their O.W.L.s

A funny thing happened to me on my way to the classroom the other day: I got bowled over by watching high school students LEARN Spanish.

So what, you say? Ah, but pay attention to that verb. Ask nearly any high school student in the U.S.–I don’t care if it’s P.S. 392 in New York City or Snobster Prep in Massachusetts–what their classes are, and they’ll say this: “I’m taking Spanish [or French, or Japanese, or whatever].” TAKING. Not LEARNING. 

Translation: “I have to do this because it’s a college requirement.”

“I’ve only been taking it since 9th grade because that’s all our district funds.” (OK, maybe not at Snobster Prep.) (…this when ALL the research shows that the best years to learn languages are the early ones!)

“I don’t bother to speak with a proper accent, because when I do, the other kids call me a brownnoser.”

“As soon as I’ve fulfilled the requirements of my school/college/parents, I’ll stop ‘taking.’

So, you’re fluent in Spanish now? “Um, not exactly. We didn’t really speak Spanish, y’know. But we did take it.”

Can you tell this has been a bit of a sore spot with me? And I’m not even a World Languages teacher!

But: a few days I had the opportunity to visit my old high school, Franklin Pierce (home of the Cardinals) in Tacoma. And at lunch one of my former colleagues told me, “You have to see something.”

Her next period was free, so she took me to the room of the teacher next door. There I witnessed a minor miracle. I’m going to get all teachery here for a sec and focus on OBSERVABLE BEHAVIOR, as though I were an evaluator.

  • Every single student had his/her assignment in his/her hands without being prompted: a hand-drawn map of a typical Mexican town, showing names of buildings, i.e. Correo (P.O.) and Panaderia (bakery).
  • All students sat in a giant circle of chairs without desks. As soon as “el Profe” directed, each student turned to the one sitting adjacent and took turns conversing on the assigned topic: “Tell your partner the name of your town, and the size of its population.” “Tell your partner which building in your town is the most important, and why.”
  • From the moment the bell rang, I heard not a word of English.

Did I mention that this was a first-year Spanish class in a mid-sized public school with a free-and-reduced lunch student population of over 50%? And that this was not an Honors class? If you are not, like me, amazed not to have seen a single student try to worm his/her way out of this assignment, or drag his/her feet, or otherwise try to hijack the teacher’s attention onto anything but learning Spanish, well…let’s just say you haven’t been hanging around schools or teenagers as much as I have.

These kids were not only learning, they were having fun. They were proud of themselves. (I heard one kid, dressed in classic slacker mode, describe how in his town, “Robertlandia,” the most important building was the statue of himself in the center of the Plaza. But he said it all in Spanish!)

Turns out this miracle has a very real source: The Organic World Languages program, or OWL. Their website says, We believe in movement, 100% immersion and an emphasis on the importance of creating community in the classroom. This was very evident, as we all moved and switched partners twice during the 20 minutes I was there. (Of course El Profe didn’t let his visitors sit quietly on the sidelines–we got to participate! Turns out I can speak enough Spanish to converse with first-years, but only just.) So, we spoke. We laughed. And we learned.

If only I could go back to high school and start over!

Want to see what I mean? Here’s a short video from OWL that explains its history, emphasizes its effect on test scores, and shows its work in action:

So, I’d like to hear about your own experience with learning another language. Did you? Was it because of, or more despite, your school experience? (If you were raised bilingually, I’m totally jealous, but go ahead and brag.)