When a student comes to their language class they should notice a difference. They should be HEARING a new language (from you, the music, YouTube videos). They should also be SEEING new words (from books, magazines, bulletin boards, and labeled objects in the classroom). We are not just teaching a class, we are offering the student a brand new experience.
Why not make their language class a mini-vacation for them? If you (the teacher) can create an environment where students need to use language then they might just do that! Here are a few ideas to help create a more authentic language environment.
First, allow students to choose a new Hispanic name. I know a lot of teachers already do this but here is why I like it.
1.) It helps with pronunciation.
2.) It gives them a connection with the culture. Later, when we talk about artists or celebrities or popular athletes, my students remember their names (and can actually say them) because they have heard them before right in their own class.
3.) They already know each other’s real names. Using new Hispanic names will test their memory and give them a reason to use the question… ¿Cómo te llamas?
4.) When we have a minute or two left in class I’ll sometimes tell a story about an encounter I had with a person with one of their names. “There was an ‘Enrique’ that I met at the beach in Malaga…” My travel stories usually inspire them to want to take a trip.
Here’s a list of the top 20 baby names in 2011 from Latina magazine…
Second, give each student a Hispanic country (and it’s capital). This is like the lottery! This is now where they are from during my class. They may have walked through the door American, but they are Espanol or Chileno or Costarricense during class. They won’t know what they will get and they have to stick with what they draw first. Here are the reasons this is great to do in class…
1.) Students learn names of countries and their capitals without even realizing it.
2.) They start to ask questions about different countries. (Are there black people in Argentina? Are people from Panama rich? What kind of money is used there? What do the girls look like in Colombia?)
3.) They begin to become interested in specific stories about “their” country. When I play a song and mention “Hay tres personas en este grupo. Ellos se llaman “Choc Quib Town. Son de Cartagena, Colombia” … I hear students say… “Wait! That’s where I’m from. Soy de Colombia!” One of my students was from San Jose, Costa Rica in class and now he is signed up to go to Costa Rica with our school’s EF tour trip. The day he signed up he told me “I’ve been wanting to go every since I drew that card out of the bucket two years ago.”
4.) They actually have a reason to use the question ¿De dónde eres? – otherwise it’s gets really old to hear “Soy de Kentucky” 31 times each class. I have a sub-plan with a map of Central and South America where they have to label the countries and write where their classmates are from. It’s interactive and they start to get an idea where countries are located.
5.) You can use where they are from to group them. All students from Central America come to this side of the room. Students from Spain come up front, and students from South America will start with the iPads.
6.) I sometimes take a second to tell kids about a word or phrase that is popular in “their” country. I’ll teach the one kid in each class to say he’s from ”BARTHALONA” or “CADITH”, Espana. I teach “que padre” to the students from Mexico, “que chiva” to the ticos, and they really get excited to learn about the different cultures.
If you can get students excited about travel and culture they will be much more motivated to learn the language. Start with hispanic names and countries if you don’t do it already. What else can you do to hook your students on the language?