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Learning Spanish Part Five : Conversation Classes
Yes, there are conversation classes (sometimes) offered in this sequence of courses. They are supposed to be the �speaking� component of what is called, The Total Immersion Experience. But there are grave problems with even these conversation classes that we will cover later.
"There is some confusion as to what a �total immersion� program actually is. Most programs touted as Total Immersion are grammar-translation courses taught in concentrated periods of time. True Total Immersion used in second-language learning, refers to massive amounts of input with meaning, similarly to the way we are exposed to and learn our first (native) language".� Harris Winitz, Ph.D. Language Development, K.C., Mo.
So, if these classes, taught all over America in all of its colleges, do not teach you how to speak Spanish then what do they do? That is a good question. But let me say this first. Just what more boring experience can you imagine than this process of carting books to a class where a lot of rote memorization is to take place with a bunch of other students who lack the same enthusiasm as yourself. How dreadful�The Motivation Killer Factor.
These traditionally-taught classes are designed to make you a good �exegete� of the language but not a speaker of it. This means that this method, textbooks, workbooks, memorizing vocabulary words and grammar rules will equip you to be a good interpreter of written text in the target language. If you get through the dreadfully boring process of Spanish levels I-IV and do well, you will have developed some good skills for translating written text. That is about it.
I cannot begin to tell you the number of people with whom I have spoken who have gone through the traditional approach of learning Spanish and about all they can say is,
�Hi, how are you? Where�s the bathroom? Can I have a cheese sandwich?�
And they�ve taken fours years of Spanish. What does one make of this?
A few years ago, I got it into my head that I wanted to learn the language in which the New Testament was written. This is called Koine Greek. It is no longer spoken. The approach to learning it is just like learning Classical Greek or Latin. You get a textbook, workbook, and a course syllabus. You have to memorize a lot of vocabulary words and grammar rules. Does this ring a bell? This is how so-called dead languages are learned. (Dead�Only in the sense that they are no longer spoken. These languages are very much alive in the written texts in which they are preserved for all to read.) If you�ve ever studied Latin, then you know what I am talking about. All you are able to do, utilizing this methodology, is learn how to translate and interpret written texts of material.
Traditionally taught Spanish courses do not equip you in developing a high degree of spoken fluency. You will learn to translate written text but that is about it.
Are you not pouring money down the drain, so to speak, if your goal is to learn how to speak the language?
I can just hear the conversation going on in your head. I can also hear the screeching coming out of the mouths of all those who have been teaching Spanish this way throughout their careers. Traditions are a hard thing to break. Why they teach a live and fluid language the way they teach a dead language totally escapes me.
Let�s resort to a bit of critical thinking in case you are still having trouble with this concept that the language learning method used practically all over the globe doesn�t work to teach you a high degree of spoken fluency.
Once I was trying to convince a friend of mine of the truth of this concept�traditional language methods used in practically every U.S. school are useless for teaching spoken fluency. To demonstrate this, I asked his 6-year-old daughter to help me with a demonstration.
I asked her to walk from the living room and into the kitchen. Then I asked her to walk back through the door and into the living room. I then asked her to describe what I asked her to do. She told me, with 100% accuracy, what I had told her to do and what she performed using all the correct prepositions (from, through, into). Then I asked her,
�Abby, can you tell me what a preposition is?�
She could not. She had not yet learned this term and would not for some time in her formal education.
Now, how do you suppose Abby knew not only what the prepositions meant but also to accurately repeat back to me what I told her to do using those same prepositions?
Did her mother and father send her to a formal English class with a textbook, workbook, some CD�s or cassettes? Did she get a course syllabus where she read what was required of her and on what material she would be tested?
NEXT: More on Conversation Classes
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