Spanish Conversation, College of Charleston
The focus of this course is oral communication, which involves both listening and speaking. The goals of this course are to a) develop the students’ oral skills in a wide range of situations, themes and readings; b) broaden the students’ knowledge of Hispanic cultures and societies, c) expose the students to a variety of Spanish dialects; d) expand the students’ lexical repertoire with vocabulary pertinent to different contexts; e) strengthen the students’ accuracy by reviewing specific linguistic structures relevant for communication.
One of the main strengths of the Spanish 314 (Spanish Conversation) course is that the students improve their oral skills by means of content and project-based activities, in which the students are required to lead presentations, class discussions and actively participate in the guided discussions. Throughout the semester, the students work on a variety of topics, which are included in the textbook, and comprise the analysis of and in-class interaction on current news related to Spanish-speaking countries, traditions in the Hispanic world, famous Hispanic figures, and important issues related to immigration or healthcare. However, as mentioned earlier, one of the main restrictions of Spanish FL courses, and especially those that focus on the development of oral skills, is that the students have limited opportunities to interact with native speakers outside the classroom, which not only has an impact in their linguistic development, but also in the extent to which the desired goals of the course are achieved.
The main modification of the curriculum entails the addition of a new section entitled ‘Más allá de la clase’ (beyond the classroom). The goals of this section are to allow the students to interact with native speakers of Spanish on a variety of topics covered in class and to later reflect on and share certain aspects and information from those conversations.
First of all, the conversations will help the students obtain first hand information from native speakers and share it with the rest of the class by means of presentations, discussions and written reflections. This interaction with native speakers will contribute to achieving one of the goals of the course, that is, to expand the students’ knowledge of Hispanic cultures and societies.
Secondly, some of the ‘Más allá de la clase’ tasks also involve the use of the students’ audio recordings in TalkAbroad. Some of these activities involve (a) the comparison of dialectical and phonological features across their conversation partners and (b) the transcription and analysis of some of the traits related to their partners’ Spanish variety. This practice will contribute to the accomplishment of two other goals of the course, including the exposure to a variety of Spanish dialects and the increase of the students’ lexical repertoire with vocabulary pertinent to different contexts and topics.
The ‘Más allá de la clase’ section consists of a total of 6 conversations with native speakers through TalkAbroad throghout the semester. Each conversation is connected to each of the chapters in the textbook. For example, in chapter 1, which deals with education and study abroad, the students are expected to learn about and report on the similarities and differences that they found between the US school system (e.g., courses, access, tuition fees, etc.) and that of their conversation partner on TalkAbroad. Each student will submit an individual report including the questions they prepared for that topic with the information they obtained and share what they learned later in class in group conversations and/or individual presentations. At the end of the semester, the students will compare the dialect of two of their conversation partners in TalkAbroad and extract samples of linguistic and phonological features from their recordings.
With respect to the impact of TakAbroad on the course, apart from developing their linguistic and conversational skills, the interactions with native speakers contributed to achieving one of the goals of the course, that is, to expand the students’ knowledge of Hispanic cultures and societies, as shown in the example below:
- "Yo aprendí mucho durante nuestro conversación hoy (…). La música más popular es el reggaeton y el vallenato.(…) Cuando hombres van a fiestas y bares para bailar, se llevan una comisa se llama guayabera." I learned a lot during our conversation today (…) The most popular music is reggaeton and vallenato (…) When men go to parties and bars to dance, they wear a shirt called “guayabera”
Furthermore, the conversations also helped develop other critical skills related to their socio-cultural competence. One of them involved their increased ability to interpret and relate to a variety of topics including politics, immigration or folklore, as illustrated in the following comments from two students:
"En Costa Rica hay problemas con racistas y discriminacion a las personas de otros paises, porque hay personas que no trabajan y salen su pais por Costa Rica. La situacion es similar a la situacion en los Estados Unidos con inmigrantes." In Costa Rica, there are problems with racists and the discrimination of people from other countries because there are people who don’t work and leave their countries to go to Costa Rica. This situation is similar to the situation in the United States with immigrants.
"Hay una cultura muy fascina en Colombia con el festival de blancos y negros que celebra los orígenes de personas y mezcla las culturas." There is a fascinating culture in Colombia with the white and black festival that celebrates people’s origins and the mix of cultures.
Lastly, the conversations that took place on TalkAbroad also had a great impact on the students’ curiosity and openness with respect to other cultures and peoples. As a result of their interactions, they felt more related to people from Hispanic countries, which also influenced their desire to learn more, travel and visit the conversation partners’ countries, as shown in the comments below:
- "Siento más unida a las personas de otros países." I feel closer to people from other countries.
- "Me gustaría visitar Colombia" I would like to visit Colombia.
Based on the results and the goals of this project, namely, to give the students of SPAN 314 (Spanish Conversation) at the College of Charleston the opportunity to interact with native speakers of Spanish and to help them develop their socio-cultural competence and awareness, it is possible to conclude that the integration of TalkAbroad in the curriculum was a complete success. As such, I plan to continue using this platform as core component in this course. In order to so, given the fact that TalkAbroad is not bundled with any textbook, I plan to create a workbook and make it available for free to the students enrolled in the course. That way, they can use the money intended to buy their textbook for their conversations on TalkAbroad.
Dr. Antonio Pérez-Nuñez, College of Charleston