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I made up my mind to learn Spanish when I was 16 years old. I had just met my Spanish cousins for the first time (my mother is from Spain, but I was raised in the US). We wanted to talk, but the language barrier was infuriatingly hard to break. We communicated as best we could using an imperfect mix of my broken Spanish, their broken English, and good old fashioned gestures. But, the experience left me unsatisfied. Half of my family was Spanish, and I could barely stumble my way through a basic conversation about the weather (or whatever teenage girls were talking about). I made up my mind that I had to do something about that. On the plane ride back to Texas, I cracked open my little-used copy of “Spanish for Dummies,” and got to work.

This moment sparked what would become a decade long mission (not to say obsession) to become fluent in Spanish. I started paying more attention in Spanish class at school – not just memorizing the vocabulary lists to regurgitate them 10 minutes later on the quiz, but actually making an effort to internalize what I was learning. I went on to double major in Psychology and Spanish in college at the University of Texas at Austin. I began practicing Spanish with my mother when I went home for weekend visits. I relished having conversations with her that my father couldn’t understand.

After my third year at college, I spent the summer in Barcelona at a study abroad course. After this, I was hooked. I wanted to live there. After graduating college the following year, I went back to Spain to spend time with newfound family and perfect my Spanish. I was thrilled just to succeed in basic communications. I could understand others and make myself understood, and at first, that was enough. But I realized that I wanted to achieve total fluency.

For the next several years, I made it my personal mission to become fluent in Spanish. I jotted down every new word I learned and reviewed them at the end of the day. I bothered friends and family to explain the grammar behind what they were saying. I awarded points to my younger cousins when they corrected my mistakes. And eventually, it all paid off. It wasn’t an easy road, but many vocabulary notebooks later, I can finally say that I am totally fluent in Spanish.

I am excited to use this hard-won knowledge to help others succeed in the same task that I undertook. Learning a new language is not easy, but it is possible. And it can even be fun. I know I have the personality and the content knowledge to help you on your path to fluency.

Undergraduate Degree:

 University of Texas at Austin - Bachelors, Spanish and Psychology

Skateboarding, working out, reading, taking my neurotic cocker spaniel to the park

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Spanish 1

What is your teaching philosophy?

My philosophy in teaching foreign languages is to simulate real-world situations as much as possible in the classroom to get my students talking. After all, isn't the point of learning a new language being able to actually use it in conversation?

What might you do in a typical first session with a student?

In a typical first sessions, I would want to talk about their language learning goals, their perceived strengths and weaknesses, and any special areas of interest. Then we would play a game for diagnostic purposes and to get to know each other a bit. Then, depending on level, we would either do some conversation questions to further gauge fluency level, or some basic vocabulary. I always like to end on something fun, whether that be a song, a game, or some conversation.

How can you help a student become an independent learner?

A student becomes an independent learner when he begins to internalize what he is learning, rather than just memorizing words on a sheet. I always encourage my students to write down any new words or phrases they learn in class, with the translation to their native language in another column. Then, at the beginning of the next class, they are responsible for having learned all the words on the page. Additionally, I encourage my students to do whatever they enjoy doing in their free time, only in the language they're trying to learn. For example, if you enjoy listening to music, then find a Spanish band you like, listen to the songs, and look up the lyrics. If you like movies, then watch subtitled Spanish movies (always with that vocabulary notebook close by!).

How would you help a student stay motivated?

Motivation is a very personal thing. Everyone has their own driving factors in their lives. I find that by making classes engaging and dynamic, the very fact of learning and being able to use what you have learned can be very motivating. For younger learners, the power of games to motivate cannot be overstated.

If a student has difficulty learning a skill or concept, what would you do?

When a student is having difficulty with a concept, I try to find a different angle to explain or demonstrate it. Perhaps the student is a visual learner, so drawing a conjugation chart would help. Or sometimes simply using the structure in conversation several times is enough to make the light bulb light up. However, if the student is still having problems after multiple attempts, I find it best to drop the topic for the day and revisit it at a later time, as opposed to student and teacher continuing to bang our heads against the same wall for the entire class.

How do you help students who are struggling with reading comprehension?

Patience is the key! Many students need to take things at their own pace, which is fine. If that means reading and truly understanding one paragraph in a class, then OK! I like to make sure that my students have truly understood the content of what they have read before moving on, not only for complete comprehension, but also because the act of reading without comprehension is boring and frustrating! How can a student be expected to become interested in reading if he is parroting meaningless symbols on a page?