Thursday, March 24, 2011

Annoying English

The students I have in my Intermediate Spanish class are very good. The absolute majority really wants to learn the language. They are very receptive and enthusiastic. However, months into the semester I still can't get them to stop speaking English in class. I have done all I can to explain to them that it's the most counterproductive thing they can do. They sabotage everything they achieve by switching into their native language every two minutes. Every class session, I beg them to stop using English pretty much every five minutes. I'm getting to the point where I'm almost waking up at night, screaming "No English here!" 

What annoys me is that they have had three semesters of Spanish before coming to my class. Normally, people who taught them in the SPAN 101 and 102 courses are supposed to put a stop to this habit of speaking English in Spanish classes. Many of my colleagues, however, don't want to make the effort, and use quite a lot of English in class. Retraining their students afterwards is an incredible drag.

It's one thing when language classes are taught by somebody who has been trained as a language teacher. Often, however, college administrators think that anybody can teach a language as long they are a native speaker. This is patently untrue. There are many things about language teaching that need to be learned before one can proceed to teach a language class. Of course, it saves a college a lot of money to hire a bunch of underpaid, unqualified instructors and let them do whatever they want in class. The results, however, are that our students take a lot longer than they need to learn the language.


marroncito said...

my mother is also a spanish teacher and i'm a linguist of sorts, so i feel your pain.

have you ever heard of 'teaching incompatible behaviors'? (

trying to break a habit, in this case communicating in english, is difficult and stressful. perhaps there are incompatible behaviors that could be used to get them to do something else instead of speaking english in class.

one thing that comes to mind is the grading that was done in Sister Act 2. where participation was part of the grade. you could make speaking spanish in your class be a significant part of the grade.

another facet of this problem is that although by their 3rd year of spanish, most non-native speakers have a decent vocabulary, they probably have a very limited set of circumstances that they are comfortable communicating in spanish. ask them in what situations outside of class they are comfortable using spanish to communicate. i would bet that it's much less than the vocabulary they know.

most students when they study language get hung up on perfect pronunciation and correct grammer. this is usually because that's how it's presented in textbooks. the problem is that in day to day world, very few people use correct grammer at all. broken sentances, bad sentance structure, etc. the reason is that these people are more focused on communicating and don't care about grammer if their point gets across.

language students tend to suffer a 'paralysis of analysis' because they can't think of the correct grammer right away or remember the exact pronunciation. the result of all this is that they become self-conscious.

i'm sure i'm not telling you anything you don't already know. just thought i'd brainstorm with you on some ways to get your class to stop using english in the classroom.

Shedding Khawatir said...

Everything you mention here falls under my pet peeves as well in the language classroom! I agree with marroncito that at this level, there are often social reasons for this as well, such as not wanting to suddenly become an uncool person in front of their peers because they can't express themselves in Spanish like they can in English.