Teaching Spanish: Playfully
by Patricia van der Lans, Spanish Instructor
Ever seen a kid giving up on learning to walk, or learning to speak? Of course not. They don’t even think about it, it’s just fun, a natural flow and eventually they all pass their exam!
I think anybody can learn to speak and understand another language doing it the same way: playfully in a pleasant and inspiring environment, following their path.
I have been dedicated to creating such an environment for all of my students for more than 20 years. In Ecuador, in Holland, in France and now in Charlottesville, Virginia with Speak!
Over the years, I’ve worked with people from very different cultural backgrounds. I’ve learned to grasp quickly their path to success. Not everybody learns the same way, not everybody has the same talents, it’s my challenge to find your path.
Some people learn easily. With them you can go to the most complicated conjugations and grammar constructions. For many people however it is more difficult. Key for them is to give them eventually sufficient basis and confidence to be able to communicate in an unfamiliar environment. That is possible for everybody, even the ones who have difficulty learning.
Take John for example. An engineer and an expert in numbers, his language talents were limited. He only spoke English.
His wife is from Peru and so he wanted to be able to communicate with his in-laws and future children, who most probably are going to learn Spanish from their mother right from the start. With him I spoke more in a mathematical way, giving him the ready made grammar constructions as if they were mathematical formulas. Of course he had to study and learn the vocabulary, but it’s not a matter of learning everything by heart. This approach was much more recognizable and logical to him and gave him peace of mind. As a teacher, it is tremendously rewarding whenever you see your student gets it.
For another one of my students, not at all an engineer, music was his passion and his key to learn. It relaxed him and inspired him to live the language and learn it, playfully. He prepared and translated the lyrics of his favorite songs for every next class. We jointly corrected his homework, related it to the subjects on hand and ended up singing the songs. It was as much fun for him as it was for me. I love music! His vocabulary improved enormously, he always listened to the songs in his car and kept learning also by signing. He was definitely not someone gifted to learn to speak fluently, but I am proud to say that he can manage in any Spanish speaking situation and people always fully understand what he means to say. He is still singing!
Group training can be fun when you get the people to learn from each other and get them over their initial shyness. The setting should be one of respect and friendship and it has to be fun to meet every week, something to look forward to. When they get to know each other better, you notice the subjects they prepare for the next class usually interest everybody in the group. In conversation classes this creates enormous cohesion and makes the slower learners to go along in the flow. Everybody benefits tremendously.
I love teaching languages, getting to know people and learn about their dreams and motivation to learn another language. It gives us plenty to talk about, playfully.
About the Instructor: Patricia van der Lans
Patricia van der Lans-Espinoza was born in Guayaquil, Ecuador and brought up bilingual, English being her second language. After studying psychology in the university, Patricia met her Dutch husband in 1980 while working in Lima, Peru. From then she started living a life abroad — in Pakistan, the Netherlands, France and Ghana. Living abroad, she discovered her true calling: to teach her language and share her culture. While in the Netherlands, Patricia received her Spanish teaching degree, and since then, she has been giving private and group classes in schools and language institutes, as well as providing in-company training for businesses. Now living here in Virginia, Patricia is very happy to have joined Speak! Language Center, which gives her the opportunity to keep on doing the job she loves so much.
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