UBC-CHS Spanish Language Encounters Experiential Learning in Second Language Acquisition

UBC-CHS Spanish Language Encounters Experiential Learning in Second Language Acquisition

February 6, 2017
By Nicole Page-Newman, Senior School Spanish Teacher

In Spanish 11, we had the opportunity to work collaboratively with UBC undergraduate Spanish learners and Professor Samuel Navarro-Ortega from the Department of French, Hispanic and Italian Studies. The aim was to create language encounters (LE) that enrich exposure to the Spanish language, culture, and teaching experiences beyond the classroom. To practice and learn within the framework of “Cognitive Linguistics and language learning and teaching (Holme, 2009; Littlemore, 2009; Tyler, 2012), we used rich visual cues, movement, and hands-on activities that engaged students in oral interactions, and that stressed the usage-based nature of language (Tyler, 2012). Also, we used cultural contents that were fully integrated into presentations (from Hispanic professionals), activities, songs, and games with an emphasis on play. The aim was to help the students become acculturated into the Hispanic community.
These language encounters have enabled our Spanish students to approach their learning through inquiry and focus as an individual process. Five key themes came to the fore with this approach:

  • Language Encounters are real life situations which make them exciting, energetic, and different from a classroom setting.
  • LE allow the students to feel in one's body the process one goes through, both physically and emotionally, to speak a new language.
  • LE offer personalized learning both post and pre-experience.
  • LE created shared learning experiences by building a relationship with CHS and the UBC undergraduates and learning from each other.
  • LE facilitated meeting professionals of Hispanic descent that work and live in Vancouver.

Academic Rigor

  • Applied what students have learned as well as an opportunity to expand and build on what they know.
  • Improved language skills: listening, speaking, pronunciation, spontaneous language production, and inference.
  • "Moments of growth" through the process of experiencing the language instantly, observed by students and teachers.
  • Acquired strategies, skills, and opportunities to provide meaningful feedback to their peers

Assessment sponsors deep learning and improved instruction.

  • Students acquired strategies, skills, and opportunities to assess their learning through reflection, rubrics, and the re-telling of activities by video recording, including regularly reviewing and improved summative and formative assessment.
  • Communicated about assessment regularly and clearly through one-on-one feedback.
  • Students set goals and next steps, or develop strategies, to improve learning and understanding.

Adds value beyond the school

  • Students were exposed to different cultural perspectives that they then carry with them wherever they go. It allows students to reach out to the community.
  • Students transferred knowledge when traveling and meeting people of Hispanic descent.
  • Student increased their ability to take risks, be vulnerable, increase confidence, and step out of their comfort zone.

Students engage in active exploration

  • Through reflection of the language encounters, students had the opportunity to take charge of their learning.
  • Through activities and tasks, students developed knowledge of the formal and informal aspects of Spanish by doing field work, interviews, and working with complex problems.

As one can see, these language encounters have been invaluable to the enrichment of our Spanish learners. However, it is only one example of the many authentic experiences our students are involved in at CHS. The best way to truly understand the impact language encounters have on the students is by reading their own reflections:
"I found that I was able to truly use the language in ways that I had not used before. ... the UBC volunteers made it possible for me to learn about Spanish culture and talk about it using the vocabulary that we had learned. …[this] gave me the confidence to speak ...the whole point of learning a language is to not only read and write, but to speak and have conversations."
"The sessions made me think about Spanish as not only a useful language but also a language that is fun and exciting. ... [it] made me enthusiastic about learning more about Spanish culture and going to visit those countries. ... I plan to travel to Spain, Buenos Aires, and Mexico."
As a teacher, the Language Encounters have enriched me. I have witnessed the pleasure of learning Spanish in this setting.

  • Holmes, R. (2009). Cognitive linguistics and language teaching. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Tyler, A. (2012). Cognitive linguistics and second language learning. New York: Routledge.