Teachers acquiring language

What if you needed to acquire a new language fast? And what if you needed to do it somewhat under the radar (while working another full-time job)?

I’m asking for your help!

Back when I was first exploring TPRS and CI, I knew that my Russian was far from perfect. Though I didn’t do an OPI at that time, I suspect it was about Intermediate Mid/High. To be able to use TPRS, a teacher needs a solid language base.

As we asked stories in class, I wrote them up and sent them off to a rotation of my native speaker friends. I had to educate some of them about TPRS, because Russians are typically erudite writers, rarely repeating the same words in a page, much less in a single paragraph. I returned to the story when I had a corrected version to read, discuss, and embellish (in Embedded Reading style)  with the class. I knew how powerful TPRS was, and I didn’t want to corrupt my students’ language.

When I first shared my writing, what came back to me was almost unrecognizable. I was a bit embarrassed, but two things happened: first, with time, the mistakes diminished, so much that by the end of that first year, I achieved an OPI oral rating of Advanced High. The second occurred earlier: in the middle of asking a story, a student proposed a different verb of motion than the one I’d used (verbs of motion are the hardest concept for many in Russian). I sent off my version of the story, and when I got it back, my colleague had corrected it to the verb the student had suggested.

I am in an interesting position. I’ve been offered Spanish teaching gigs three times, based on potential employers’ belief in my ability to overcome the fact that I don’t really know Spanish. The third time was the charm, and I accepted a short-term spot this summer.

I don’t know Spanish, but I’ve acquired a surprising amount. Two of my children are immersion Spanish graduates, so I heard a lot in those years and helped them with their projects. I’ve read a number of the TPRS novels (in fact, because of understanding Carol Gaab’s  El Nuevo HoudiniI convinced her to let me translate it for Russian students). And working with students now, I find that a lot of phrases and verb forms are right there for me on a (Novice? Intermediate Low?) level. The sympathetic Spanish speakers (not teachers) in my building are very complimentary.

But I don’t know Spanish. I want to guide acquisition correctly! I sent Martina Bex a recent story that my little group told. (It was the fourth paragraph that I’d ever written in Spanish.) When she sent back the corrections, bells went off. I am already reading Spanish blogs, watching Jeremy Jordan and Denver PS teaching videos, listening to Spanish music, working on grammar websites, and practicing my TPRS skills with students. If some of you would be willing (in rotation) to repair mistakes in stories, I would be most grateful. Right now, we’re reading Bryce Hedstrom’s La Lloronaso what I will be sharing immediately is the parallel stories we write as we move through the versions of that fabulous embedded reading. Next, I will take on one of Mira Canion‘s books, because my current group needs a slightly higher level.

Martina suggested I blog about this project. I demurred, because … what will people think if they know my weakness? On the other hand, probably only Andrea knows both this blog and my upcoming gig, and I’m sure she’ll keep it confidential.

If you’re willing to help, please send me a note. I need five to ten sympathetic colleagues who would be willing to make corrections in a rotation.

Here’s the fourth paragraph I’ve ever written in Spanish, with Martina’s corrections (tranquila, and the sentence with grite):

Hay un hombre. El hombre no tiene hijos. Él tiene un perro y una esposa. El perro es tranquilo, pero la esposa no es tranquila. Ella grita mucho. Al hombre no le gusta que la esposa grite. El hombre va al mercado. Él va al mercado con su perro y con su esposa. En el mercado hay un río. Este río es un río de leche, no es un río de agua. El hombre mira el río. Él mira a su esposa también. Él empuja a su esposa en el río! Que lastima! El hombre no está triste. El perro está triste.

BTW, on my next Russian OPI, I earned a Superior rating. TPRS is magic, for both students and teachers.

18 responses to “Teachers acquiring language

  1. Hi Michele!
    I’d be happy to be in your rotation. Do you still have my email? I can’t seem to retrieve yours. I’m annyewing at altamira.org.


  2. Hi Michele!
    I’d be glad to be in your rotation – though I’m not a native speaker…. Sandra.tunis@rentonschools.us 🙂


  3. Hi Michele!
    I would also be happy to be in the rotation.

    TPRS is pretty amazing. 🙂



  4. Patricia L Moller

    I would be happy to help you out MJ. Absolutelt!


    Liked by 1 person

  5. I can definitely help out as well Michele!


  6. Pingback: Spanish #3 | MJ's Comprehensible Input

  7. Wow Michele, thanks so much for sharing your new adventure and for your vulnerability.. I’m very encouraged this experiment. I’ve actually embarked on a similar one with Spanish and French TPRS class in Tuluksak, one of the Alaskan bush villages as you know. I’m amazed by how much Spanish language I’ve acquired while teaching it TPRS style.. please keep us updated with the process of your adventure. love, Maggie Salisbury

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Well-done Michele! we’re cheering you on..your risk-taking adventure is inspiring me..

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Hi Maggie, I am thinking of you, too! Hoping that things are not too cold…So there are three of us actively acquiring languages in a very non-traditional way. We’re building new ways for our brains to work!


  10. I am native speaker, but I make written mistakes like anyone else. One online tool I use is languagetool.org. It will catch a lot of masculine/feminine issues, plus some verb tense corrections. And, it’s free!


    • Thanks so much, Tiasha! Spanish seems like it would be so simple, and then there are all those changes in what’s feminine/masculine. I’m always happy to be able to tell folks that Spanish has some areas that are much more complex than Russian. As BVP said in a panel discussion, it looks like every language ultimately has the same level of complexity. (But small children still master them all…)

      Liked by 1 person

      • At the NTPRS conference in Reno last year, I learned a tiny bit of Russian from Katya Paukova. I had a hard time wrapping my mind around the fact that verbs change with the gender of the speaker! I think I’ll stick to romance languages, after all. 🙂


  11. Maggie, I’d by happy to give feedback on readings as well. I’m not a native speaker but speak and write Spanish with ease (over a year in Central America, lots and lots of reading/movies/conversations with friends in Spanish, etc.) Let me know. tim.geerlings@gmail.com,
    I also teach Spanish 1 and 2 so I understand the importance of good, teacher made readings.

    Liked by 1 person

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