A revisiting of my purpose:
My reason for taking the opportunity to learn Spanish was deeply rooted in personal connection to the language. Spanish is my husband's first language, and we hope that our daughter will be bilingual as well, so she can meaningfully communicate with both sides of her family, as well as open up opportunities for her future. Prior to this learning experience, the responsibility for ensuring our daughter develops her Spanish language fell solely on my husband, as I would have been more harm than good in trying to teach her Spanish. I wanted to play a more active role in raising our daughter to be bilingual.
Where I came from:
At the beginning of this learning experience, my Spanish was extremely poor, and it was because of this project that I actually said this out loud. I knew within myself how poor my Spanish was, but I felt very ashamed for others to know, as I lived in Mexico and have been married to my husband for over 5 years, and I knew I should have had a more solid foundation of the language. Through the process of this learning journey, I discovered that the biggest obstacle to my Spanish learning and growth was ME... because I let my shame and self-consciousness dominate and I didn't even try to speak. Having this opportunity in EC&I 831 to learn anything we wanted was a gift; I felt empowered to finally be given the time and space to work on something so in need of my attention and effort.
What I engaged with and Learned from:
I started with Duolingo, a language learning app/site. Duolingo helps you with goal-setting, increases your vocabulary, and gets you to focus on comprehending phrases (as opposed to just singular words on flashcards). I also loved how "convenient" it was, that when I had some moments of down time, I could practice my Spanish, as the lessons were short and sweet. I was really motivated to see my scores climbing rapidly at the beginning. About 5-6 weeks into the learning project, however, my score was plateauing, even though I kept working on the app and meeting my daily targets. Although I know it's not about the score or number, I can admit that I was getting frustrated, but I stuck with it. I definitely say that the app helped me, but I needed to engage with more than just one tool to keep propelling my learning forward.
I also changed the language setting on all of my technology (my PC, my MacBook, and my iPhone) to Spanish. I felt this was a good option, since I am on my technology so much, to immerse myself further in the language. It was quite tricky at times, and I had to refer to translators from some things, but i do believe it benefited me in this process.
Next, I decided to label a bunch of objects in my house. The rule was, that if the object was labelled, my husband would no longer use the English word with me. At first I was incredibly frustrated, as it slowed me down immensely (i.e. cooking dinner and he tells me the "cuchillo is in the lavaplatos"). However, with time, I relied less on the visual supports (post-its) and started to pick up on the words because I was using them more regularly. I also found myself using those visual supports to give my daughter basic directions in Spanish, which is something I've never done before (i.e. "Mayte, put this in the basura, por favor." The Post-its are still up in my home (good job, Post-its on your adhesive technology!), and I think I will keep them there until I no longer need them.
Up until this point, I was still too self-conscious to speak out loud in Spanish, especially so publically through YouTube or a blog… then I found myself admitted to the hospital, diagnosed with a terrible and debilitating neurological disorder. I couldn't see my daughter while I was in the hospital, as I was unable to care for her and my husband needed to be at work. Thank goodness for my amazing parents, who cared for Mayte in Moose Jaw during the time I was in the hospital. I found myself very down in the hospital, not being able to hug Mayte, read her stories, or put her to bed. It was likely the high dosage of morphine and other pain killers I was on, but I asked my husband to bring Mayte's Spanish story books to be one evening when he was done work. I had never read these books to her, as I was always scared I would confuse her or do more harm than good in her Spanish language development, but since I missed her terribly, I wanted to record a video of myself reading these books to her. While I know my speech was slurred and I mispronounced words, it was so heartwarming to hear that Mayte was watching the video again and again in Moose Jaw. That risk I took, combined with the motivation of the learning project, connected us when we couldn't physically be together.
I engaged with another language learning tool created by the BBC, called "Mi Vida Loca". The interactive video program consists of 22 episodes that are divided into specific topics. The videos make you feel like you are a part of the action. I managed to finish the program during the course of the past 10 weeks. I can definitely say the program enhanced my vocabulary, which is key to improve my Spanish speaking.
There were some low points during my journey where I just felt like I wasn't meeting the expectations I had upon commencing my learning project. I just hadn't had that experience of fluency in my speech--it was so choppy, lacked subject/verb agreement, and had so many mispronunciations. When expressing my upset to my husband one day, he responded by saying something very obvious, yet profound… he said, "Genna, we have two ears and one mouth for a reason." He told me to consider our daughter for example, she is admittedly behind other children her age in terms of her verbal fluency in both English and Spanish. He said that she's still taking it all in, processing it, testing it, and in time, she will find her voice and develop her fluency. I had to sit back and reflect on this for a bit and think about how I could use my two ears to develop my Spanish fluency. I started reading about how singing in another language can increase fluency, and I then came up the crazy idea to try it myself. I was extremely nervous about posting this online for others to see, but that's part of what this open learning process is about. My highlight from that "risk" was that, for the first time in my entire life, I got to experience verbal fluency in another language. Granted, the words were not mine; but I've never been able to speak more than one very basic sentence fluently. Through singing, I was able to speak fluently for three and a half minutes…multiple sentences--it felt so empowering and I was able to let go of some of my self-consciousness!
After the first week, I realized that I couldn't just learn on my own--I needed to get connected. From the onset of my learning project, I began to build a PLN for my Spanish language learning. I used a variety of networking tools, but my favourite were Mixxer and Linqapp. They are free platforms to make connections for language exchange. From the connections I made on these platforms, we connected on Skype, which has been an incredible tool for language learning. I've had rich learning conversations via text chat and video chat with native Spanish speakers around the world who were also interested in learning English. It was a great experience to learn one language and teach another simultaneously.
I also used Twitter to connect with others. I added certain hashtags to my TweetDeck and HootSuite, including #educachat, which is conversation and sharing space about education (like #edchat) in Spanish. It was pretty amazing to get some of my tweet retweeted in this space! My highlight was connecting with a Spanish speaker who has the same Tech Coach role as I do. It was awesome to not only be learning a language, but be able to discuss a shared passion for educational technology in Spanish as well! It took our interactions beyond "basic" conversation.
Motivated by Roman philosopher, Seneca, who said, "While we teach, we learn," I decided to apply this concept to my learning project. Research supports the idea that teaching is a powerful and fruitful way to learn, so I decided to "teach" something in Spanish to support my learning of the language. I decided to do a recipe video, but give all the instructions in Spanish. This was an incredibly difficult task, in terms of translating and targeting my speaking, pronunciation, and pacing. I was able to draw upon the help of my PLN to support me in this undertaking. I was shocking to see all the hours of work condensed into 3 minutes, but it reaffirmed why the process is infinitely more important than the final product, which is something we need to continue to instill in our classrooms.
What I learned OVerall:
I've learned so much through this process! My Spanish has drastically improved. Am I fluent? No way! However, this project has given me tremendous confidence to keep going in my language learning journey! I've also learned that open/visible learning keeps you accountable. I appreciated this, as I have given up on learning Spanish many times before out of frustration or a sense of hopelessness. Open learning also allowed me to connect with others who could truly support me--which is something I hadn't tried in previous attempts to learn Spanish. I got to drop that sense of isolation in learning a language, and feel like a true member of a Spanish learning community. I also learned how reciprocal open learning and PLNs can be, as while in the process of learning Spanish, I was also able to help others with their English. I learned a ton about strategies that support language learning, that I wouldn't have otherwise learned, as I was previously so focused on learning "Spanish", that I didn't delve into learning the process of language learning. In essence, this project has allowed me to learn how to learn. This learning project allowed me to focus and reflect on process, which is a rarity in graduate studies. We are always so focused on our end-products (the research papers, the presentations, etc.), that we often neglect to spend time reflecting. I appreciated how open-ended this project was, as I wasn't trying to carve my end-product to be just what the instructor wanted, but rather, my project got to be whatever I wanted, and most importantly, the learning was truly for--and driven by--me.
Teacher & Tech Coach with Regina Catholic Schools. Passion for EdTech, 21st century student-centered pedagogy, connected learning & differentiated instruction. Grad student.