Experience Spanish Immersion Without Traveling to Costa Rica
One of the most effective ways to learn Spanish is to be fully immersed in a Spanish speaking country for a period of time. If you can live with a host family where no one speaks English, your language proficiency will be even better.
Few students, however, have the time or resources to jet away to an exotic locale, like Costa Rica, to learn Spanish.
But there is another way to rapidly improve your Spanish through immersion!
Here at Lexington Prep School (in Lexington, MA), we are excited to highlight our Spanish Immersion program which provides many of the benefits of language immersion but without having to leave the U.S.
The secret to rapid Spanish language acquisition is a method called Teaching Proficiency Through Reading and Storytelling (TPRS). This is what we use to teach our immersion course at Lexington Prep.
Before we break down this innovative approach to language learning, it’s important to highlight what a typical high school student experiences.
The Drawbacks of Traditional Grammar Based Language Programs
Meet Matt. He is a second year Spanish student. He has been learning Spanish in a traditional, grammar-based language program.
He doesn’t much like the drills and exercises.
Memorize long lists of conjugations, which change depending on which ending. He must also account for those pesky irregular verbs which have their own conjugations. In addition, Matt must memorize vocabulary words and their associated articles. Before he speaks, he has to remember that each noun can be feminine, masculine, singular or plural.
Then there is the impractical and forced dialogues that Matt must practice with his classmates. Everything is great as long as he only has to say, “Hello, my name is Matt, what is your name?”
When he puts it all together, Matt would tell you that it’s difficult for him to speak in complete sentences. He’s been studying for two years, but he’s just not that proficient. He has to go through four or five translation in his mind, before he can communicate a single thought.
This is the state of language acquisition today, and only the most determined students reach an adequate level of proficiency for all their years of study.
But there is a better way.
Teaching Proficiency Through Reading and Storytelling
Teaching Proficiency Through Reading and Storytelling (TPRS) replaces the rote memorization of long lists of words and conjugations with actual conversations that are built on stories created with student input.
Indeed, speaking is even more important than correct grammar. In a TPRS environment, the teacher does not overcorrect the students which would normally stifle communication and the desire to practice the language.
With TPRS immersion you don’t translate phrases in your mind, but rather, you become accustomed to hearing and speaking the target language.
The key is repetition.
A good teacher will use a vocabulary word 50-100 times in an immersive context. This is different than in a grammar based context where a student may read or hear a word only a few times.
Because the teacher uses stories created by the students, learning is more engaging, interactive and participatory. The students forget they are learning a language and instead are drawn into an entertaining narrative where learning happens without the anxiety normally associated with rote memorization and translation.
There are three main steps to TPRS language learning:
- Step1 – Establish Meaning
- Step 2 – Create a story
- Step 3 – Reading and discussion
Let’s discuss each step of the TPRS language learning method in greater detail.
Step 1 – Establish Meaning
In this step, the teacher establishes a set of vocabulary words which will be used in the creation of the story in the next step. This will include verbs (both past and present tense) as well as nouns.
As mentioned, a major component of TPRS is repetition. This means that each student will hear a word dozens of times per session. But this repetition occurs through the use of pictures, gestures, demonstrates, props, and questions.
In this way, a student can quickly master dozens of words per session. Rapid language acquisition is taking place, and it is occurring the way people normally learn a language from birth.
Step 2 – Create the Story
In this step, the teacher now weaves a narrative using the vocabulary introduced in the first step. She introduces three locations. The students are selected to role play in the story. Through a question and answer method known as circling, the teacher is able to repeat the vocabulary and conversational structures 50-100 times.
Circling means asking a set of questions to reinforce vocabulary. A very simple example is the discussion around someone’s name where a teacher can choose from 6 different types of questions:
- Statement – The boy’s name is Alejandro.
- Yes question – Is the boy’s name Alejandro?
- Or question – Is the boy’s name Alejandro or Mark?
- No question – Is the boy’s name Mark?
- What / Who question – What is the boy’s name? Who is called Alejandro?
- Directed to student – What is your name? What is her name? What is his name?
Students interact with the story both as listeners and as speakers. The story makes learning a language entertaining and interactive. Students stay engaged. They are curious to see how a story is resolved (and which of their classmates can best role play their part).
Step 3 – Read and Discussion
In the third step, the students and teacher read and translate the story together. Because the students have heard the various terms dozens of times, and they are familiar with the story, they can work through a translation with greater ease.
It is during this third step where grammar rules are introduced and developed in what is called pop-up grammar lessons. These lessons, however, are not long or involved. The grammar lessons aid in the comprehension, translation and conversation portions of the class. They are not the focus of this step.
In all three steps, as mentioned, fluency is more important than grammatical accuracy. This creates a less stressful learning environment. Students feel liberated to practice their Spanish rather than having to learn a list of correct grammar rules before they can speak.
Feedback from Students
The video below shows two students who were in a traditional grammar based language class before joining a class taught with the TPRS method.
As you can see, they were at a distinct disadvantage when entering their class since their classmates were already using the TPRS method. But after joining the class, their skills markedly improved and they both preferred TPRS to the old way.
Features of the LPS Spanish Immersion Program
Beside using the TPRS method above, there are many other aspects of the Lexington Prep Spanish Immersion program worth highlighting:
Our Spanish Teacher
We are proud to introduce Mrs. Beatriz Bloodworth as our Spanish Immersion teacher. She is a native Colombian, an educator and musician who brings the joy of learning Spanish to life.
Complete Spanish Immersion
The goal of this course is for students to speak Spanish throughout the program. In the classroom, Spanish will be used exclusively.
Immersion also means that the student will hear, speak, read and write in Spanish. He / she will learn the language through repetition the same way they learned their native language when they were children.
One Year of High School Credit
Because our course is an intensive immersive Spanish experience, students can receive up to one year of high school language credit for four weeks of study.
Small Class Sizes
Our class sizes are small. This ensures that our teacher comes to know each student’s personality and learning style. In addition, a smaller class size allows each student greater participation and practice time in the classroom.
Interactive Activities Afternoons / Weekends
Students will have a chance to practice their Spanish and increase their vocabulary outside of the classroom. This includes:
- Vocabulary challenges and tournaments
- The use of interactive music, arts and cooking to stimulate learning
- Eating (ordering) in an authentic Colombian restaurant
- Interacting with organizations that reach out to Hispanic families and children
Boarding and Day Student Options
We have lodging facilities and a full meal plan for students who prefer to board at Lexington Prep. There are two and four week sessions. If a student lives near Lexington, MA, we also welcome day students.
Dates of Our Immersion Program
We hope you can join us this summer for our Spanish Immersion program. We have two sessions: July 21 – August 3 as well as August 4 – August 17, 2019.
Register by June 30 and enter a discount code of “Spanish” to receive a 20% discount!