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16 October 2011


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I mean this in the best way possible. I think that it's wonderful that you taught your children Latin and are willing to start Spanish. I just wanted to give a word of caution. As you wrote, the goal of learning Latin isn't to be able to speak it, but Spanish is a living language.

The goal of learning a living language isn't solely the cognitive skills, but also the ability to communicate with native speakers. So using the grammar-translation method in Spanish is almost ineffective. You can have an excellent grasp on a language's grammatical structure, but you can still be unable to communicate.

I've taught languages for several years (French, Spanish and English) and one of the hardest things is communication. I have had many students (mostly from Asian countries) who have had English grammar stressed in their classroom, but they have been unable to say more than their name and where they are from. Or English speakers who try to learn French or Spanish and then they struggle to speak beyond conjugating verbs. I've seen their struggles to communicate and how hard they have to work in my classes to function. This struggle could have been avoided.

I think that it's wonderful for you to teach your children Spanish, but, as a teacher, I would suggest to stress the communicative aspects (like you mentioned: TV, talking with native speakers, trips to Hispanic events, etc.) Of course, grammar is still important because learning the grammatical structure allows communication. But it's not the only thing.

If you can find it in the library, this book (Lightbown, Patsy M. et Nina Spada. How Languages are Learned. Oxford University Press, 2006.) has an excellent section on different second language teaching methods and their strengths or weaknesses.

Sorry, for the long comment. The balance between grammar and communication is one of my focuses.

Good luck with Spanish!


I think that, as a primer to learning the language conversationally, like you said, this is a great plan. I found it much easier to learn a living language when you already have the grammatical ideosyncracies figured out.

But you absolutely should teach vosotros and not move ustedes up to fill it's slot. Moving ustedes wrecks the symmetry of the conjugation and could cause confusion later on when learning spoken Spanish. My husband used to teach Spanish, and while he brushed over vosotros in class and didn't require it for tests, he would never move ustedes because ustedes is still 3rd person and not second.


Ana: "The goal of learning a living language isn't solely the cognitive skills, but also the ability to communicate with native speakers. So using the grammar-translation method in Spanish is almost ineffective. You can have an excellent grasp on a language's grammatical structure, but you can still be unable to communicate."

I'm completely aware of this. However, at this time, I am unable to offer my homeschooled children a conversational component to any language (at least without shifting my priorities significantly, something I'm unwilling to do right now).

You write that "the" goal of learning a living language "isn't solely" the cognitive skills, but also the ability to communicate with native speakers. I would rephrase that to say that ONE goal is cognitive skills, ANOTHER goal is communication skills with native speakers, ANOTHER goal is cultural appreciation, ANOTHER goal is to read literature written in the language (which is worthwhile in itself), and YET ANOTHER goal is better understanding of one's own languages. The goals are separate, separately desirable, and I have come to believe it's worthwhile to attack them individually if they can't be attacked together.

I have delayed introducing modern languages for years because I can't find the "perfect" program that will somehow make up for the fact that I, the facilitator, don't have a background in conversational Spanish. (I'm completely capable of teaching French, which I studied for something like 12 years, but which seems less useful). If I go on waiting, I fear I will wait forever.

In the meantime, I think I can meet the other goals -- at least I am going to try. And at the very least I will perhaps lay a groundwork for someday when my kids have the chance to take a course taught by a native or expert speaker, even if that's not till late adolescence or adulthood.

Thank you for the book recommendation - I will check it out at my library.


Geek Lady, thanks for the input. Could you explain that a little more when you say the ustedes form of the verb is not second person?

Wikipedia at least says, " In Spanish America, the form ustedes serves as the second-person plural for both familiar and formal situations," and that the vosotros form "is only used in Spain, the Philippines, and Equatorial Guinea."

If almost all of Latin America uses it as second person, then I would say it *is* second person there... but probably people from Spain or the Philippines feel differently :-)

Your point is well taken about messing up the conjugations, though. Still, I'm thinking about the children I teach Latin to, and wondering which would mess them up more, to learn a conjugation and then actually conjugate the verb differently in sentences, or to learn the conjugation as they will conjugate it in sentences and then occasionally have to deal with the European form in written Spanish.

I suppose I should do it as college Spanish courses tend to do it, since I am hoping to prepare them for more study later.

Christy P.

I didn't take Spanish until college and then had the first course from an American who learned and taught the Spanish way con vosotros and the rest from Americans who taught the Mexican way sin vosotros. I say to keep it in to preserve the symmetry. It makes me recall that my first term of Latin was in Texas where there was no problem whatsoever about 2nd person plural. It provided a correct spot for y'all. The colloquial American term "all y'all", however, is troubling in any language with rules.

In terms of TV etc for learning to listen - Mexican TV, although pretty available thanks to Telemundo, is difficult because they speak FAST. I do better with people from Peru who are either kind enough to speak slowly or just do so by nature.

Isn't there anyone in your parish or neighborhood with whom you could connect for some actual conversation? If no, perhaps you should be learning Somali Bantu instead...


Your approach makes sense to me. Latin was my first foreign language and the one I learned most thoroughly. I studied French in high school and college but never really got comfortable in conversational French. I really know it primarily to read it. (My French teacher in college said my compositions made him want to cry. Understandable because I wrote them in English and then translated them into French.) As a tourist in France I was able to limp along and ask basic questions about trains and food etc; but real conversation was beyond me. I think that if I'd lived there for any length of time I'd have picked it up pretty quickly though. I agree that a reading and writing based approach makes sense in the absence of a native speaker.

In grad school I studied Gaelic with a similar approach. The focus was on being able to read it. Spoken communication was not really all that important. It sort of drove my Gaelic-speaking landlord crazy. He used to be an elementary school teacher in Ireland and when he'd tutor me that focus was all on spoken communication and basic grammar.


@Christy, re: y'all -- I always use it with the kids to translate vos. Very useful English construction when conjugating! And yeah, most of my neighbors speak Spanish, and the kids play together sometimes. I have occasionally had to learn to say things like "could you please move your car" and "hey, don't throw sand."

What do y'all think about throwing both forms (ustedes/vosotros) into the conjugations when the kids recite them

hablais, hablan


We have a precedent -- in Latin declining of the plural second person pronouns we recite

vestri, vestrum

It does kind of screw up the rhythm... but they learned to deal with it.

Barbara C.

I'm afraid I agree with Ana.

I learned Spanish in high school from a Puerto Rican, which made for some interesting pronunciation. Two of the four years of that was for dual high school/college credit, and then I intended to major in Spanish in college. However, partly due to my teacher's recurring migraines and I suspect partly due to the issues that come with having 30 students in a classroom, while I could read and write Spanish fairly well I had almost no conversational skills. I got slaughtered in my first and only semester of college as a Spanish major.

While I understand that fluency is not the main goal of teaching foreign language in schools (and that fluency would be almost impossible without a certain amount of immersion), from everything I've read it is best to start with conversational fluency before grammar and writing when teaching a second (living) language. After all, that is how we learn our first language.

When you start with reading/writing grammar alone and then try to go speak it you can kind of get a mental block trying to figure it out in your mind before you open your mouth. It's like the difference between having your math facts memorized and having to recount on your fingers and toes every time you are asked what six plus nine is.

I don't feel qualified to teach my kids Spanish on my own, and I don't want to possibly handicap them the way I was. (This is also the same reason that I won't teach them what little I know about playing piano because I don't want to accidentally pass on bad positioning habits.)

I've been looking into Rosetta Stone or Power-Glide when we start foreign language. I've also considered getting a Learn Spanish in your Car program as a cheaper prep program before we start formal study.


I thought about what Barbara C. wrote for a few days. Here is the thing - I believe passionately that people can be self-taught in a wide variety of fields, and that to avoid embarking on self-teaching because of a fear that you'll do it "wrong" somehow is to close many doors to yourself.

To use the piano analogy, I would rather teach myself how to noodle around on the piano for fun, pick out songs that interest me, and maybe play a couple of Christmas carols -- badly -- than never try at all because of the fear that I might pick up bad habits if I don't learn from an experienced teacher.

I would say that my strong belief that self-teaching is worthwhile is something that guides me in a very fundamental way as a homeschooler. So after having thought about it a while, I am pretty sure that I reject the notion that it ought not be tried,

Of course, if you progress beyond a certain point in self-teaching any field, it becomes valuable if not crucial to seek more expert guidance. But by that time you have learned enough that the help can be more precisely pinpointed -- you have specific weaknesses rather than general ignorance. It seems more efficient to ne to start with a little self-teaching.

manolo blahnik

I just sent this post to a bunch of my friends as I agree with most of what you’re saying here and the way you’ve presented it is awesome.

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