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Second Year Spanish II, Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne

14 Aug 2018


In this project, TalkAbroad will be a key tool in improving the quality and function of language lab activities in a fourth-semester basic language Spanish course. In the current curriculum, students must complete two hours each week engaging in activities that will expose them to the cultures and language of the Spanish-speaking world. This has traditionally relied on watching films, listening to music and reading newspapers or other short texts. In other words, while students are focused on reading, writing and listening, the language lab activities have difficulty engaging practice in speaking. TalkAbroad can integrate that fourth language skill into the cultural curriculum by enabling students to engage in conversation about cultural topics, such as the world of commerce, work life, the environment and health. This, in turn, can help students prepare for three oral exams that will take place during the semester, while also improving listening skills. Moreover, by having first-hand contact with native speakers, students can use their conversation partners as resources for tailoring research for lab reports to their interests. In other words, TalkAbroad has the potential to improve cultural competency while keeping the goal of helping students reach ACTFL’s Intermediate-Mid range in Interpersonal Communication.

Course Description

Second Year Spanish II (PAN S204) is the fourth semester of a four-semester sequence of basic language. Vocabulary topics include shopping and commerce, professions and the business world, art and entertainment, the environment and health and the human body. Students improve their abilities in narrating in the past, giving recommendations in the present and developing new abilities in giving recommendations in the past, talking about uncertainty in particular situations and talking about hypothetical situations with expected and unexpected outcomes. As stated on the syllabus, the two hours of weekly assigned language lab time is crucial to the learning outcomes of the course: “The ultimate goal [of this class] is familiarity and facility with the language that should enable students to enjoyably and profitably pursue any and all aspects of Hispanic culture that might interest them. To accomplish these goals, it is imperative that students attend every class and complete their two (2) Language Lab hours per week. The language lab provides students with an opportunity to pursue topics of interest to them in an intercultural context, making use of the communicative grammar and vocabulary as a jumping-off point for exploring the varied cultural realities of the Spanish-speaking world.” However, the activities that are often assigned to complete these lab hours are focused on watching films, listening to music and reading newspapers or other short readings. In other words, while students engage the interconnections of language and culture through reading, listening and writing, they have less opportunity to do so in speaking. Opportunities to engage in speaking often require excursions or may present obstacles that lead some students to disengage from the learning opportunities. Moreover, the opportunities to engage in speaking are often limited. For this reason, conversational abilities are often less developed than abilities in the other language skills despite the fact that many students are most interested in gaining increased ability in speaking Spanish. Most speaking practice in these courses is between second-language learners at similar levels and with the professor teaching the course. The curriculum could be enhanced by integrating more speaking practice with native speakers into the course.

TalkAbroad Implementation

By adding a conversational component to language lab time, the biggest advantage is adding speaking practice with native speakers into the engagement with culture through visual and textual works. This interpersonal interaction can provide a concrete starting point for student reading and exploration of topics. For example, our textbook has an image of the way products are purchased in the Spanish-speaking world: a fish monger (pescadería), a butcher shop (carnicería), a fruit market (frutería), a stationery store (papelería), etc. While it is advantageous to engage in conversation in class about how students acquire daily items (e.g. at stores like Wal-Mart or Target or Sam’s and Costco) in contrast with the images in the book, it is not always immediately clear that some of those same retailers (e.g. Wal-Mart and Costco) are major players in places like Mexico. While students can read newspaper and other articles about these phenomena, it would be far richer to engage in conversation with a native speaker to compare and contrast the way they purchase items on a daily basis. The same is the case for learning about professions, talking about the environment and talking about health and diet. Students can enhance their reading by adding speaking and listening practice to their reading and writing practice.

We plan to add up to four conversations to the curriculum, which would significantly enhance the language engagement in these cultural activities while also increasing contact with target cultures. While the quality of the language lab activities would improve, it would also provide students the opportunity to increase speaking proficiency in preparation for three oral exams they will take throughout the semester.


Coming Spring 2019

Project Lead

Stephen M. Buttes, Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne