You Are Dismissed

You are dismissed

When your last class is over and you dismiss the students and tell them to GET OUT and you pull your bowtie open and then grow to the size of a five story apartment block, bursting through the science labs, the art room, through the spanish mission roof tiles and you start stepping through the crumbling building with your horned, green-scaled feet and unleashing murderous window-piercing reptilian screams and finally gathering speed, running through the sleepy town crushing each building as if they were paper nests in a meadow of tall grass, leaving footprints of destruction, death, sirens, burst fire hydrant geysers, and gas mains exploding into hot jets of flame; mountains of ruins where your armored tail swept city blocks aside as you turned to check your bearings, the smell of exhaust fumes and freedom.

Accent marks in Spanish

Sí lleva tilde.pngI feel like I have some students and friends whose policy is to ignore the accent marks in Spanish.  If I tell them, “copy this word:  más” they will write the letters “m.a.s.” When I ask them why they didn’t copy the á with a tilde over it, they will either burst into tears or immediately attack me with a punch to the neck.

Look, I don’t care about proper Spanish.  It is my job to teach it to students, but in life my friends write me however they want, I don’t go after them, they’re my friends.  I do, however tell my students they should learn how to write them, because a) it’s not hard and b) there are people who will write them off as pochos. I, as their teacher, wish them success and wish that other people didn’t write them off as pochos.

I tried to be gentle about it, but I had to start bringing the hammer down when they were writing like “mi familia es muy orgullosa de ser de Mexico” (sic).  Folks, you’re not really representing pride in Mexico if you’re writing me-HEE-co in Spanish.  In Spanish you have to write “México.”  A huevo.

I know that this is an issue with heritage Spanish speakers, the accent mark looks arbitrary to them, and they go into shame spirals when someone exposes them. I’m not trying to put them there.  So I tried to develop helpful graphics.  Here’s the latest.

OG tildes

Organizador gráfico: tildes

I’m not sure if they’ll find this helpful or if it will stress them out.

The following are two examples of flow charts that I made.  When I showed my latino friends, they told me, no, these two are way too stressful.

Tildes por sílaba

Tildes por tipo de sílaba

Tildes por tipo

Tildes por tipo de palabra

This final one is organized by final letter, and my latino friends were less stressed out by this one.  So I added sight gags to it and passed it out to my students. I also passed out little game chips to them, and forced them physically move the chippy along the arrows, and when they did, they got to the right answer. However they hated it (and me) with a passion and as soon as I wasn’t looking went right back to brute force guessing.  Baby steps I guess.

Tildes por asesino jaja.png

Tildes por letra final

If anybody wants these on PDF please email me and I’ll be happy to share; or find the links on my Spanish resources page.  If you’re using my material, I’d love to hear how it went over with your students.

By the way, when I learned these, it was three rules organized as bullet points in a paragraph. At this point in my career, I don’t have rules memorized, and I don’t need graphics; I just hear where accent marks are supposed to be written, even if it’s a word I never heard before.  I’m still trying to figure out how to teach my students to hear where an accent mark goes. I suspect the answer will have something to do with them listening.

“Proper Spanish?” That’s just my day job.

Somebody asked me the other day how to say “lunch” in Spanish.  Someone shouted “lonche” and someone else shouted “almuerzo.”  They looked at me, and I said, “la comida.”  Immediately one of the shouters snapped at me, “why do you always tell us different words?!”  It wasn’t a question, it was an accusation.

My best answer; my only answer:  “I’m not from here.”

Spanish in California is different from what I’m used to.  To my ear it sounds like northern Mexico, plus a distinct /b/ vs. /v/ distinction that just doesn’t exist in other varieties of Spanish, apart from maybe some Gloria Estefan songs.

And of course, my Spanish is different from theirs, and I know I sound weird to them.  I’m keeping a list of words that have stumped my Spanish speaking friends, colleagues, and students.  Some of the words are fancy and academic-sounding, like el simulacro and la tertulia.  Some are words that I know to be common in Mexico, like piropo, nefasto, but when I say them here, people blink at me.  In a conversation with my new colleagues I tried to refer to an all-boys school as todos varones, a term I learned from a colleague in 1998, and now I’m starting to think it was never the right term in the first place.  What do I know?

It’s not a nice feeling to use these words and have local people blink and squint at me. I’m trying to get them to like me, and here I am with these strange words they never heard of, I feel like a jerk.  Luckily my new friends are quickly getting used to me; instead of awkward vocabulary moments, they’re starting to just chuckle at me and ask me to explain my crazy word. This must be what it feels like for a speaker of  Australian English to be harassed by… me. By the way, if there is a contest for the nerdiest, most dorky way to explain the word tertulia, I won it this afternoon.

On the other hand, it’s a delight for me to learn local words.  The other day my friend used the word nortearse (which is definitely more charming when pronounced “nortiarse”).  I understood what it meant immediately (to get disoriented, discombobulated) but it was just agiphy surprise to hear it, because it sounds like the root word is “norte,” which cracked me up because it sounds like a comment on what happens when you go north… to the US.

My friend also took it upon herself to teach me the word chivearse, which, again, is more charming when pronounced “chiviarse” (to get embarrassed and go coy, to get flustered by a compliment).  The root word is “chivo,” a kid goat; which is adorable.

So my friend says she’s going to teach me the phrase “qué bolado” tomorrow.  I looked it up but I can’t wait to hear how she explains it.  I told her I would take notes.  She promised to teach me all of her slang, if I would teach her proper Spanish.

I’m told her I’m happy to teach her everything I know. You know, I’m thankful that I can speak Spanish and that people perceive it to be “proper.”  I, personally, don’t hear my own Spanish as proper; I hear a bunch of pronunciation and grammar mistakes, fumbling for words, and awkward expressions.  I think I’d much rather have native-speaker intuition and be able to tell a joke, to write a poem, to talk on the phone without anxiety, to  choose concise words and make powerful and moving statements, to understand stand-up comedy, or those adivinanzas, like this one:

Agua pasa por mi casa;
cate de mi corazón,
el que no me lo adivine
será un burro cabezón.

I understand all the words, but I don’t understand why those words are together, and I don’t get why when my coworker heard this one, she was delighted and said “that was a good one.”  The answer, by the way, is “aguacate…” high fives all around.

I would take slangy, colorful native-speaker intuition over “proper Spanish” any day of the week.  Besides, “proper Spanish” is just my day job; I want to leave it behind after the five o’clock whistle.


Torneo and Vine

Torneo de animaciones

Click the image above to see the slide show!

When we study comparisons in Spanish class,  I create these tournament presentations and make my students predict and comment.  Here’s the first one I made, a while ago. The most important part in creating lively conversation is a little bit of injustice.  I made this one back in April and forgot about it.  Click here or the image above to see it!

I also have some vines.  This one is an impression of my students.  This one, directed and shot my sister H, is our mama being hilarious.

Spanish Class Tournament Brackets

torneo starting bracket

Click image to go to the slide show; click or spacebar to advance!

People love tournaments.  They love making predictions, they love explaining their comparisons, and regardless of how successful they are, they love to follow along and react.

You’re thinking what I’m thinking, aren’t you… that tournament brackets are perfect for a language class.  So I made one; it’s animated.  Click here for all the thrills, including the final solution.

The bracket shown above is not the basketball tournament; it’s a tournament for who is my favorite singer.  I could have chosen vocabulary words, but I chose celebrities instead.

There will be predictions; description, comparisons of inequality, maybe even narrations in the present past.  Students will have to reconcile their own opinions with what they know of my opinions.  There will be conjecture and hypotheticals, so they will have to use all kinds of future, conditional, and subjunctive tenses.

There will be reactions; expressions of victory and loss, disgust and incredulity at upsets and defeats.  Also at stake:  the wisdom/stupidity of whoever seeded the brackets.  Subjunctive, subjunctive, subjunctive.

This motif can be repeated ad infinitum; favorite foods, favorite restaurants, favorite colors, who cares.  We can use historical figures or members of the faculty and set them up as a death match… or just as easily, a niceness match; who wouldn’t want to win a niceness championship based on a Spanish class conversation topic?

Who would win the condiment tournament?  Would Mayo finally face off against Miracle Whip?  If there was a cute baby animal tournament, people would learn animal names in a snap.

You could even do numbers; which items, are more expensive on Amazon?  Which cities in Western Washington have the highest murder rate?  Who in this class has the most Twitter followers?  Possibilities are endless.

Classroom Breakthrough

Today in class I was going over answers to an assignment, and when I called on a kid, he did a seven-second “ummmm.” Seriously, I counted. He was the fifth person I called on, and it hadn’t occurred to him to prepare an answer. Nobody was listening.

I walked over and switched on the English light. “Children, here’s a life skill. When we’re going over answers, and you see me calling on people, you should be preparing your answer mentally, just in case I call on you. Then, when I call on you, the rest of the class doesn’t have to wait for you to think. Because it is * EXCRUCIATING* to wait for you to come of with an answer from zero every. single. time.

I turned the English light off and continued with the answers, and the result was… AMAZING. Students were listening to each other, I could riff off their answers and make conversation in the target language. People actually heard each other make mistakes and correct them… and then AVOIDED making those mistakes when it came to them.

Ladies and gentlemen, this phenomenon is something that adults call “following along.” And what you may not know about teenagers is that they don’t follow along in Spanish class unless they are told specifically HOW to follow along.

I had been assuming for my entire career that teenagers knew how to follow along. When they didn’t follow along, I assumed it was because they were immature or uncooperative. Today I realize I have been wrong all this time. They had absolutely no idea how to follow along in Spanish class, until I explicitly told them how to… with their brains.

After school I ran into a student and said, “hey, remember that breakthrough we had today?” Yes, said my student, that was amazing! After that, I asked another student, and she had the same reaction…. “We could actually… have a conversation.” That’s what she said!

It used to be, I’d call on somebody to do number 10, and they when they heard their name, they said, “um…. what? …. um…. uuuuuummmmmmmm.” and I just wanted rip my own face off. Trying to lead a discussion with kids not following along feels like bleeding to death. And then when the kid is halfway through number 10, another kid busts in, interrupting, demanding to ask a question about number 3, which we had gone over 10 minutes ago. Because they hadn’t been listening.

“Come on, children, keep up! I’m giving away free answers,” I would say. And the students would look at me like i was bludgeoning them with the boredom stick.

Big breakthrough today. I don’t usually blog about students or what happens in the classroom, but today was a big day.