Journal 7 Session 9
Chapter 6 in the Language and Learning text provides us an overview of Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills (BICS). Provide 2-3 examples of ways we can facilitate the acquisition of BICS.
Encouraging students to use a foreign language when they live in a community with nearly NO traditional diversity can be a challenge. Many facets of the Bics strategies helped get this job done.
Class routine begins with a ten minute period of free conversation using Spanglish. Students were paired with their study buddy (chosen generally by the students), but if a wider discussion holds their attention, we had no trouble adapting the time to a whole group discussion. The classes are almost always under 20, and upper levels generally are under 10 students. As words were requested, they were readily supplied, but no penalty was given for using English words or whole phrases. Frequently, others could fill in a missing word in a very natural way. Shyer students can still get in practice in the foreign language when they have selected a study buddy they feel comfortable with.
Many of the classroom assignments revolve around conversations with the two study buddies in a guided practice or free conversation on a certain situation or topic, sometimes suggested by the students. About 50% of the instruction is talking of one kind or another.
Group free translations are common. Once when a foreign exchange student returned for a visit, he spent about 15 minutes of class time in a junior high exploratory class telling what he was doing now, talking about his parents, girlfriend, and hopes for the future in very rapid, upper level Spanish. When he left, the group asked questions, which lead to various people telling what they THOUGHT was being said. Although they had only about 8 weeks of Spanish at this time, they got ALL the main ideas. (They were highly interested, as he was a very personable, good looking young man. Most of the class were girls. The boys told mostly about his dog and sports activities, while the young girls knew mostly about his family, the troubles with the father, and the GIRLFRIEND. It was quite revealing, as I would not have guessed that they would understand much of his conversation at all.)
As topics come up in the conversations, various informal presentations of the grammar help students gain confidence and fluency. Endings that switch readily into Spanish from the English and use of cognates are highly visible features of the discussions. When the students ask for a word, if a cognate is available, I use it, and explain how they can guess more accurately what is being said by listening for them. Basic information is used – time, weather, counting, the alphabet, ordering food, how well phonics works in Spanish, and the five sounds that cause trouble, and how to guess some of them more accurately come in early. Pattern learning is stressed to show how to improve their ability to talk about a wider variety of topics with simpler words and phrases.
Some groups prepare booklets of pictures or drawings of things that mean something to them, and as they become better story tellers, they use the pictures to help them talk about the topics in Spanish. The better ones ask if they could go into the elementary with their stories. We still have some that are favorites (El Monstruo debajo de la cama…a booklet with five pages, all commentary in Spanish, done by a Spanish III student who presented it in the various elementary classes.)
Probably the best activity used to encourage BICS is found in many of the foreign language classes in AEA 15 because of the support from Eve Schlindler – the Academy Awards Foreign Language videos. Students do it all – write the scripts, act in the movies, prepare the props, learn the dialogs, film, and edit the final product, which other students in the AEA area then rate. We just got done rating this year’s entries, and my students are hot to do one now. (For the first time in many years, we did not submit one this year due to the lack of availability of a camera. Our old one bit the dust, and the budget cuts precluded getting another one in time. Here’s one case where I succumb to "district envy". One teacher said, "Oh, our school doesn’t have one. The students always do. Not true in our area.)
When I first moved to Seymour 28 years ago, some of the Italian coal miner grandfathers still were alive, speaking broken English. An Italian family owned one restaurant in town, and the lady delighted in teaching anyone who showed any interest at all about the Italian language. None of the children that I know can speak any of their grandparent’s language, however. It has effectively died out.
But some lifetime second language learners do develop in our school system. Soon after I came, some bored eighth grade study hall students responded to a challenge to master Spanish flashcards, then go into the elementary to teachers who were open to it for ten minute sessions twice a week to present mini lessons there. The hero worship factor was so strong for the kindergartners that the first group to hit first grade responded to flash cards about 50% of the time in Spanish instead of English. One first grade classroom encouraged it, but the other teacher, who was near retirement, did not, and quickly extinguished it in that group.
Several of that group ended up in jobs where being bilingual was a bonus, and one boy was overseas with a multi-national company speaking German, then Spanish, for over 20 years. Another found himself in Brazil with Pioneer Seed Corn, left alone at the lunch hour, using the Spanish weather phrases we’d learned and repeated to talk to a Brazilian farmer. From talking about the weather in a language close enough to figure out, he gained enough confidence to try to take his order, which included numbers, something else he had a clue about. His boss was quite astonished, as Americans are always reassured that they can do their job without learning the language, and won’t need to. They are noted for NOT learning it, so Joe got a lot of good feeling by breaking that pattern and made his mother promise to tell me that story, and to be sure to tell my students how he used to gripe, "I’m never going to use this! What do I have to learn this stuff for?"
Another young girl went to Africa for several years and lived in the bush, working with natives, eating their same diet, again using Portuguese based on her two years of high school Spanish.
Another boy returned to the local Hy Vee store after being a missionary, again using his Spanish to communicate in Portuguese, eventually becoming quite fluent in it. To this day, when he sees me in the store, we carry on a conversation in two languages, neither of which is English.
To feel free enough to try their fledging language skills in real life settings, many hours of comfortable talk with classmates is essential.