- Ada, Oklahoma


June 19, 2013

Teaching, learning and experience

Ada —

If you are a teacher, you need to be a learner.  Go back and read that sentence again so I don’t have to repeat myself.  You need to read it at least twice because it’s that true. Teachers have to be alive as learners. This is true especially if you are going to be teaching introductory courses — you need to keep learning things than are completely new to you.

I’m working on Spanish again.  I’d run through the Rosetta Stone course last year and got some basics.  Then in March I went to Paraguay and I won’t say that I did badly, but I will say I got plenty incentives to learn more. 

Then the last week of April and the first week of May I was in Brazil.  In Brazil, they speak Portuguese, not Spanish, but Portuguese and Spanish are both romance languages.  Romance in this context does not have to do with the wooing of women, but the fact that they are both derived from Latin, the language of the Romans.  Romance, Romans, it kind of makes sense.

In Brazil, when you go up to someone and ask, “Usted habla espanol?” (“Do you speak Spanish?”), they are going to say no, but if you just speak to them in Spanish, they will understand you.  God help you when they talk back.

I also discovered I could read Portuguese about as well as I read Spanish. I don’t say this to brag; it is more of a comment on how little Spanish I know. In any case, I was able to navigate around and eat.  God forbid I should miss a meal.

These experiences convinced me that I needed to learn more.  When you are in a foreign country, this is about as independent/helpless as you are going to be. While speaking English slowly and loudly and waving 20-dollar bills will get you quite a ways — I have done this proudly — throwing in a few words of the native language here and there will get you farther, and you might not have to wave the 20-dollar bills. Just saying.

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