Cifuentes and Garcia Attend AATSP Conference in Albuquerque

The weekend of July 11-12,2009, Yovanna Cifuentes and Maripaz Garcia, both Lectors in the
Dept. of Spanish & Portuguese, attended and presented at the annual conference of the American
Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese (AATSP) in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Next, you will find a brief report on their presentation as well as an evaluation of other panels
attended.

Contributions of Brain Research to Foreign Language Education

Our power point presentation was divided in two sections. The first section explained the basic
anatomy of the brain, the areas involved in language learning, the methods used to test patients
or research-study subjects, and information on different models or theories about how a foreign
language is learned. We specifically discussed the issue of critical period for foreign language
learning, and Dr. Ullman’s Declarativel Procedural memory model. The second section of the
presentation focused on the practical applications of these findings. Some of these applications
included the need for meaningful input, the importance of encoding information correctly in
order to recall it, the importance of practice and repetition, the need to pay attention to form as
well as meaning, and the importance of other factors, such as sleep, nutritious foods, mild stress,
and exercise, among others. Our formal thoughts mentioned how much we still do not know about
the brain and how cautious we need to be with research findings, especially with those that
cannot be confirmed or corroborated with fmdings from other fields, such as psycholinguistics,
sociolinguistics, or simple classroom observation.

There were about 40 people attending the presentation, some of whom expressed their opinions
and asked questions during the Q & A period. We also provided photocopies of a five-page essential
bibliography of some of the more important articles and books related to this topic. We received
a few good comments on our presentation. It looks like this is becoming a hot topic among
educators. The power point presentation is available upon request.

Other Lectures

Some of the lectures we planned to attend were canceled, so we attended others instead. We
attended Antonio Prado’s lecture: Spanish Immersion: Becoming Bilingual and Bicultural as We
Learn Spanish. He founded the Spanish Institute in Puebla, Mexico about 10 years ago and has
been working with American students who want to learn Spanish in Puebla. He mentioned a
couple of interesting details about this program. One is that he refuses to place more than one
U.S. student with a host family because he knows they will end up talking in English and will
eventually do their own thing, missing on the opportunities that study-abroad offers. This
particular feature caught our attention because he placed quality of education over financial
benefits, which is a rare feature nowadays. Another feature that he mentioned that caught our
attention was that he would recommend very young U.S. students to attend regular elementary
school classes instead of classes at the Spanish Institute. He believes that at that early age, a total
immersion among his or her peers will drive the student to learn the language and the culture at a
high speed and in a manner that he cannot compete with at the Spanish Institute. This is another
great quality of the person who runs this institute: he is putting the students’ needs above his
financial needs.

Before lunch, which was kindly provided for free by the AATSP, we went to the main pavilion,
where several exhibitors were showing their products, such as books and other classroom
materials, study-abroad programs, programs to study an M.A. in education, and so on.
After lunch, we attended a lecture called “Integrating the 5 Cs into the Communicative Classroom
and Beyond,” given by Jane Johnson, Pennie Nichols and Lynne Lemley. It was a very descriptive
explanation of how you can integrate Communities, Connections, Culture, and Comparisons in a
Communicative class when teaching specific topics, such as “the family”. They talked about the
pros and cons of certain activities. They took questions from the audience at the end. This lecture
was interesting but did not provide any information that we did not know already.

After that lecture, we attended a lecture called “Developing an Internet-based Spanish
Conversation or Intermediate-level Course Syllabus,” given by Dr. Donald Clymer from Eastern
Mennonite University. Dr. Clymer explained how he came up with a course that was entirely
online, how he broke up the lessons in units that required students to go online and do certain
tasks, and how he corrected and graded their work. He showed a couple of websites where
students could listen to radio programs or podcasts in Spanish and the tasks he would assign for
them. The audience also contributed with ideas for websites (pen-pals, online newspapers and magazines,
voice-recording software, etc.), the pros and cons of certain tasks and websites
and questions for the lecturer. The course seemed interesting because of the variety of input
sources and tasks. However, in our opinion, it was very chaotic in the sense that the parts that
made up the unit were not interconnected. In other words, the grammar lessons were not
connected with the short story reading, with the cultural points explained that week, with the
radio program, or with the biblical passage of the week. Everything seemed disjointed. When we
asked if these elements were connected in a way that was not apparent, he mentioned they were
not. He added that maybe that was something he could work on for the next courses. He also
mentioned that students in his class were graded per assignments, but they did not have exams.
Despite the attractive nature of this system, we believe we could not apply this particular feature
to the language program we teach at Yale right now.

Since our trip to Albuquerque took a whole day, we were not able to attend any more lectures on
the next day, but we were glad to be able to give our lecture on such an interesting topic. We
hope to research more and maybe write an article sometime next year.

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