Lo siento. I am way overdue for an update on our journey in español. Even though my husband is fluent, this language was beyond Pamela and me érase una vez. Everyone seemed to speak it too quickly for our thick orejas. Delving into Charlotte Mason's ideas about teaching Spanish encouraged me to try. I learned from the mistake of letting Pamela see words in memorizing our first nursery song. She still pronounces pollitos (chicks) in that song−with an l sound rather than y. Sigh. Because we quickly changed course and focused on learning by ear only, she pronounces words like silla (chair), calle (street), and cuchillo (knife) correctly, even when she reads as you can see in the following video.
Notice that Pamela is READING in the video. How many reading lessons did we have before she could read Spanish? Zip, cero, nada. I applied the same method that my husband used to learn to speak, read, and write in English without formal education. First, Pamela and I spent several years hearing Spanish, which I intend to recap today. I can now testify that getting a second language in the ear prevents difficulties down the road.
Spanish and English have a similar alphabet, except for a couple of letters (accented letters like é, double l ll, and ñ, so I did not see a strong need to teach phonics. Because Pamela has already stored the sounds of all the words on the reading lesson, her mind searches her audio memory for a word that is a good enough fit for what she sees on the page. As shown in the video, she easily reads obvious words: el, la, está, and casa. Words like silla, sobre, and señora are so familiar to her that they come to her readily. Even though plato looks like plate, she has heard this word so often that saying plato with a long a would sound ridiculous. If she lacked long-term audio memory of calle, she might be tempted to start off like the English word call. Again, her mental ears would tell her eyes that no such word existed in her memory of Spanish. The long pause over the word cuchillo (knife) probably has more to do with its similarity to cuchara (spoon) than sounding out the word with English phonetics.
At first, Gouin's method of teaching a second language captured my attention as it did Mason. With the help of Steve, I created series for Pamela and me to learn. Since we were also learning Spanish rhymes such as Cinco pollitos and nursery songs, I tried out audio books of familiar fairy tales. We scrupulously avoided seeing words and concentrated on la oreja solo. When I assessed Pamela's progress in Spanish at the beginning and end of 2011, I began to realize that hearing words in context was the real beauty of Gouin's ideas. I believe that Mason came to a similar conclusion because her programmes offered a wider variety of contexts for French than the Gouin series. [Mason geeks may want to read Parents' Review articles on second languages for even more startling stuff if you think Gouin is the be-all, end-all.]
Because of Pamela's aphasia in English and my block-headedness in Spanish, I decided we needed to combine a more structured approach with the literary approach. I ordered the Spanish version of the Learnables Level 1 last year. Although they offer it for the computer, I ordered the book and four CDs. I preferred an activity we did together. We spent a whole year going through all five pages of all ten lessons. Words and sentences are spoken by a native speaker, and, as we followed along the pictures in the book, we enlarged our vocabulary of nouns (household objects, food, clothing, and family), simple prepositions, pronouns, and present tense verbs. Apparently, the computer version offers games and still photos. Although the material seems dull and repetitive, we only spent five minutes a day on it. In spite of her aphasia, she had no problems with the five quizzes spread throughout the book, and I overcame my dim-wittedness.
We continued the literary way of hearing and memorizing nursery rhymes and songs on albums by José-Luis Orozco: De Colores and Diez Deditos. We also listened to audio books of familiar literature (namely, Buenas noches, luna and four Bill Martin bear books recorded in English and Spanish on CD: Oso pardo, Oso polar, Oso panda, and Oso bebe).
Since our terms are eleven weeks, I divide a book (or series of books) into eleven parts. We cover the first eleventh during week one, add the next eleventh to week one for week two, and, so on, until the last week, in which we hear the entire book in one sitting. To ensure Pamela did not see words in the books we were hearing, I scanned and printed out pictures and put them in a folder. If a section contained a lot of new words, I printed pictures of them to review individually before hearing.
Then, I made an audio file using some free software called Audacity—did I say it is free? Since native speakers of Spanish often blend the final vowel sound of a word with the beginning vowel sound of the next word, I often turned to free online resources for audio such as SPAN¡SHD!CT. It gets a little tricky because sometimes I have to record a video clip in Audacity because I haven't quite figured out how to strip audio from a video on my Mac. The end result is that Pamela and I listened to audio of individual words and pointed to pictures as we heard them. After that, we listened to the audio book, pausing at the end of the next eleventh of the book.
I know. It's complicated but worth the effort. Pamela and I have learned a lot of Spanish that way.
The following video shows Pamela's "term finale" of narrating pictures de el libro, Buenos noches, luna, en español. She has no words on the pages in her folder—only pictures. Every word she speaks is from her audio memory. My two favorite parts is when she makes up the word for lamp in Spanish. She is clearly searching for the right word (notice the eye movement), and she knows lampara sounds like lamp. So, she says, "Lampia"—a very clever thing to do. She also turns the phrase—un ratón que corretea—into a unique sentence that she learned from our work on series—Un ratón corre.
What are our weaknesses? What are we doing this year? See my next post!