What if my language skills need work (as a teacher)? by Erica Peplinski

erica peplinskiWhen I first started teaching using TPRS/CI it was hard, it was really, really hard.  In fact, for the first time since student teaching (many, many years ago) I had to script out every single word I said.  For a single 15 minute story, this “only” took me 2.5 hours (don’t worry, there is a MUCH better way).  I was excited and determined to try this method of teaching though, so I pushed ahead and finished up my “novel”.

Once in front of students though I realized that a script that dense was a bad idea, even with key questions and points in the story in bold.  One of the key components of TPRS/CI is teaching to the student.  I couldn’t stay engaged with my students or maintain the flow of my classroom if I had to stop every time I changed questions to search my scripts. My first attempts at storytelling were cumbersome. Even with my script color-coded and in bold (which took forever to do) this method didn’t work.  My first (somewhat lazy attempt) to fix this was to add a highlighter to the mess I already had on my paper. Surely, I thought, this will make it easier.  It didn’t.  My next attempt was actually helpful, and I think it a great idea for those first starting this type of teaching, or those that need a little boost of confidence.  Instead of writing out the WHOLE script, I wrote out and bolded only key statements that I wanted to focus on (the target grammar or vocabulary); I then made up as many questions as I could think of about just that one statement, and put them in a table below the statement.  This was much easier than my first attempt, I still had work to do, but my students enjoyed the story, and my pacing was much better!

When my class came back for day 2 of the story, their enthusiasm for what I had felt was only an OKAY attempt at a story told me I had to continue refining my methods.  Especially when I saw how much my young learners had picked up from my first attempt.  Luckily there is a much easier (and fun way) to improve your TPRS/CI skills (read on below to find out how).

Why wasn’t TPRS/CI method more natural for me?  I’d passed the Spanish exams, dutifully studied my 501 Spanish Verbs book, taught after school Spanish programs or Middle School Spanish for years, and even purchased a higher level of Rosetta Stone (boring after a few days) to hone my skills.  The problem wasn’t that my Spanish was bad, it was that the Spanish I was capable of producing at the time was Spanish I’d learned with the old style of teaching and in order to communicate and produce language (the goal of any language learner) learners need something more.  When you have a natural conversation with someone you don’t think about how to conjugate verbs, or modify nouns, your brain naturally does it, and if you only train yourself with traditional methods this is a large leap to take.  

I had a choice, did I continue to push myself to improve my Spanish through the method I’d been taught (grammar rules, and vocab lists) or did I buy into the brain based learning methods behind TPRS/CI of naturally acquiring the language through compelling input?

I went down into the basement and looked at my dictionaries and well worn copy of 501 Spanish verbs.  Did I really want to put time into studying them again?  The answer was no, and neither would my students.  I had to try to improve my own Spanish with the same method I was bringing to my students.  Instead of taking the ‘big books’ off the shelf, I returned upstairs and turned on Netflix.  If you don’t have Netflix and are looking to improve rusty language skills I highly recommend it as a resource.  Most of their original programming (and I am noticing more and more other shows) now have Spanish language options (I am also noticing more language options, I’ve seen German, French, and many other languages available as well).  Simply find a show with your language option, add subtitles in your TL (reading increases fluency), and enjoy.  Now when my husband comes home from work at night and asks what I’ve been doing all evening, I can say ‘working’ even if it means I was laying on the couch watching Netflix for a few hours. Keep reading for a few suggestions on what to watch (for Spanish teachers or those that want to refresh their language skills)…

El Internado:Laguna Negra

“El Internado” is one of my FAVORITE series of all time (and I’m normally more of a bookworm, finding this show saved me quite a bit of my Kindle budget for the month).   Set in a boarding house in Spain, this mystery unravels over 7 seasons (and has a satisfying conclusion, unlike some series, which shall go un-named).  I don’t want to say much more about the plot as I don’t want to give away any of the many mysteries.  However, I do want to add this is a GREAT program for educators to watch, as being set in a school, you will pick up TONS of appropriate grammar phrases and vocabulary (as well as some not so appropriate ones, I learned quite a few Spain Spanish swear words that I had not heard before).  I plan to re-watch all 7 seasons, solely to improve my Spanish.  Not at all because I am addicted to the show and want to see all the clues they leave after watching the end.

Gran Hotel

“Gran Hotel” is great withdrawal therapy for after (or in place of ) “El Internado”.  Set at a hotel in Spain in the early 1900s.  This is another mystery (with a bit of romance).  It even stars one of my favorite actors from ‘El Internado’.  I am currently on season 2, Episode 30 something, and have a whole third season to go.  However, when I finish this I have two more series on my list…

“Velvet” and “El Tiempo Entre Costuras”  are next on my list, when I finish “Gran Hotel”.

It was also fun to re-watch “House of Cards” in Spanish.  

Watching these shows, along with listening to Spanish music (my kids and I like to have dance parties to Spanish music, helped me EASILY and in a very enjoyable manner improve my Spanish skills.  Now I can ask a story without any preparation when needed (though I am a bit of an over-planner).  Who knew? Compelling and comprehensible input were what I needed to take my Spanish to the next level! Do you have any shows or tips to add to this list?  Put them in the comments below!

I hope this peek into the beginning of my TPRS/CI journey helps someone have the courage to start a journey of their own.  The only loser in this story are my sad verb and grammar books on my shelf in the basement.  

peplinski_books

Erica Peplinski is entering her 12th year of teaching; and loves working with her Spanish students using TPRS/CI and brain based learning techniques. When she is not working she loves spending time with her friends and family, reading, the beach, and Michigan Football. Erica teaches in Saline, MI and blogs at profepeplinski.com.

6 Comments

  1. Janet

    Thank you so much for this, Erica! I will get over my guilt of indulging in Spanish programming on Netflix. I like to have everything scripted, too, as I cannot think fast on my feet and have mild panic when a lesson goes too quickly and there are 10 minutes left in class and I am trying so hard to break free from old methods. Thank you so much for blogging about your experiences; you are helping others! 🙂

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  2. Spanish - Mrs. Mitchell

    I started reading this and almost forgot it wasn’t me writing it! This is my life. I was taught with traditional grammar kill/drill but want to teach CI. One of the reasons I am so dedicated to this way of teaching is I am a product of the other way and I have learned SO MUCH just teaching this way!! I have loved VELVET. I love your answer to what you have been doing all day. I was working. I am taking time to invest in my skills so I can invest in my students.

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  3. I relate to this story so much! I also play the novels on CD from TPRSpublishing in my car everywhere I go. It really helps, and I have a few novels practically memorized! For French
    teachers, Marseille on Netflix.

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  4. Thank you so much everyone! I wanted to share because I remember how intimidated and excited I felt when I started, and because I hear a lot of people new to the method having the same fears. It’s wonderful to have a community of teachers/learners to rely on, and get advice from!

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  5. I had the same experience when I switched to TPRS. I can happily say, however, that 2 1/2 years later, my speaking ability has increased greatly. Because I speak so much Spanish in class, I no longer have to stop and think about what I’m going to say. I have fluency. Coming up with scenarios off the top of my head has helped my creativity skills, too.

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  6. Holly Rogers

    All three recommendations are great shows! I started watching a series a summer to work on my Spanish. A Colombian friend recommended Yo Soy Betty La Fea from Colombia and its great, too. I watched it on the internet, I think. And a long term favorite – Corazón Salvaje. Happy watching!

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