TalkAbroad Resources home

Advanced Spanish Conversation, University of Florida

15 Jul 2016

Overview

Students pursuing Spanish degrees with an eye to enhancing their prospects in professional capacities – such as medical, legal, r educational – need to master a variety of aspects of language, ranging from cultural understanding to specific terminology and, crucially, proficiency in conversational Spanish. The Advanced Spanish Conversation class at the University of Florida aims to provide learners with the opportunities and contexts to develop these conversational skills through a variety of tasks, ranging from oral presentations and listening activities, to readings and conversations with other learners. In recent semesters we have attempted to engage learners in more authentic language use by having students go into our community to engage with Spanish speakers, or by developing exchanges with other learners. These techniques can be effective, but the former is less accessible than many realize, and the latter, while good for building community among learners, doesn’t offer the students the authentic interactions with “real” Spanish speakers that they crave (and need). The proposed curricular innovation will pair each student with a native Spanish-speaker for a series of 30-minute conversations over the course of the semester in order to talk about cultural issues and develop their listening and speaking skills.

Course Description

We would like to incorporate the TalkAbroad program into our SPN3414: Advanced Spanish Conversation course. This 3-credit course is designed for Spanish majors and minors who have completed a minimum of 6 college semesters of language (although many have completed more by the time they take the course). Although the topics of the class vary by textbook and student interest, the class is required for students pursuing our Spanish for the Professions Certificate

The course is currently very popular and always fills. We have adopted a portfolio approach to the class, making students responsible for their own learning, and encouraging them to be aware of their goals, how they can achieve them, and the progress they make. Additionally, the students react positively the textbook in use, which is based around a real Spanish sitcom, and they learn a great deal of slang and colloquialisms from Spain. In many ways the class is effective as it is, although we believe we could offer students a much richer experience through the incorporation of conversations with real native speakers. Although we encourage students to seek out these connections on their own, it is difficult for them to do. There are indeed many Spanish speakers in Florida, but those around the university area either prefer to speak in English or tend to stay in relatively isolated communities that it is hard for Anglo learners to break in to. Furthermore, the students are often shy and reluctant to engage in Spanish conversations on their own. The course is offered every semester.

TalkAbroad Implementation

Language classrooms provide the ideal testing ground for the intersection of linguistic theories and pedagogical approaches. Effective second language acquisition depends on a number of factors, and although some of these factors fall outside the scope of what the classroom instructor can control (e.g., aptitude, motivation and other individual variables), others are indeed manipulable within a classroom context. To promote successful language acquisition and use, for example, we must provide opportunities for learners to receive and intake comprehensible input (i.e., Krashen 1977), a platform for learners to produce comprehensible output (i.e., Swain & Lapkin 1995), and we need to encourage them to negotiate meaning (i.e., Long 1996; Swain 1995).

With these core principles in mind, we would like to modify the curriculum of our current Conversation class. We propose replacing the student-student exchange from the previous course syllabus with TalkAbroad interactions. Students will engage in six bi-weekly conversations with the native speakers provided through TalkAbroad. We likely will modify some of the conversation topics to take advantage of the native speakers, and to explore cultures other than the Madrid-centric culture that is the primary focus of the text.

For the Fall 2016 semester, the conversations will be graded according to the rubric used in the past exchange, with minor modifications based on the interlocutors being native speakers and not students in another class. We will also ask students to assess their experience qualitatively in terms of enjoyment, perceived benefits and disadvantages, if any. With this pilot semester, we plan to evaluate the students’ reactions to gauge their thoughts on incorporating them as a permanent component moving forward.

From a linguistic perspective, we would also like to assess student proficiency and the beginning and end of the semester via a pre- and post-semester administration of the Versant proficiency test. Without a control group, we would unfortunately not be able to make any conclusive claims, but we could assess the effectiveness of the class design. Further, should this semester prove to be successful, we will develop a future study with a more solid pedagogical design (pre/post, control group, etc.) in order to attempt to quantify the advantages of these exchanges.

Conversation topics will be:

Results

Coming Spring 2017…

Project Lead

Dr. Gillian Lord, University of Florida