Stepping into Another’s Shoe

Buenas tardes. ¿Cómo están ustedes haciendo?

That is how my afternoon started in a Spanish class. Yes, I knew what they were saying, but that is how far I got before being lost.

Alright, so it wasn’t that bad, but it was interesting to see how different learning can be when you don’t fully understand the language.

First, I have a student that moved here recently from Central Mexico. He knew practically no English when he entered about a month ago, but now he is starting to learn some conversation phrases. He’s a great kid who always has a great smile on his face. However, I knew very little Spanish to really be able to talk with him.

A week after he had started coming to my classroom, I found the Google Translate app on my Galaxy Tab. I started to play around with it and experiment with the student. You can actually speak into the Tab, see what you said, then accept. Next the app will translate what you said and even say speak out-loud what you said in another language. We started talking through the app. It was great to be able to have a conversation with him. However, for in the classroom, a translator is needed.

Well, this got me to thinking. He sits in a classroom everyday barely knowing what is being said around him. Yes, he does have a translator. Yes, there are students who know Spanish fluently who talk with him. However, he still has to learn and work in English which he knows very little of.

Today I had the chance to attend a Spanish II class. This class is composed of 8th graderswho, for the most part, know Spanish pretty well. Many of them use Spanish at home as the primary language. Mrs. Sanchez (pictured) allowed me to sit in her class today as a student. She gave me the same worksheet she gave the students, and even a book follow along and work.

Many students in the room are my students as well, so they were a little confused on why I would be there, but also excited.

The lesson was over masculine and feminine adjectives. I think I did pretty well with the worksheet. I was very excited when Mrs. Sanchez came to talk to me and work through some of the words with me. It was little intimidating when she would not speak my language. I also didn’t know how to respond at times when she talked to me.

Now, I do have to say that in the picture you can see it’s in English. Again, for the student’s sake, they were working in both English and Spanish, so I was able to understand for the most part what was going on. Also, because I took a year of French, I was able to understand the work that I was being expected to do. However, if I were truly a student in her class (8th grader) I would not have been as lucky.

Sitting in a class and not knowing everything that is being said is a huge barrier. She was very kind in allowing me to sit in her class and observe from a different stand point.

Too many of us forget that there are many students who want to work hard and really do care about school, but may not know English that well. If we as teachers put up a front, then they will not want to be there. However, if we start to understand where they are coming from, many things can change.

The first day I was talking with my student through my Tab and Google Translate he said something into the Tab. He then handed it to me and I read:

Yes, I almost cried. When you have a student who has not been able to talk with you very well say this, it’s unbelievable.

He is the reason why I went to the Spanish class and tried to learn on my own in unknown territory. He is also the reason why I will be sitting in the same class next week with a translator. I will have a chance to learn just like he is.

Disclaimer: The students spoke English during class. Also, you can see that English was all over. I did not get a full view/understanding of being lost. However, I did have some trouble with some of my learning and the worksheet.

About Anthony Purcell

I am Anthony Purcell and I am currently teaching math in Oklahoma.
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