Language Resources & Inspiration

The Six Ways Peer Practice Benefits Your Language Development

How Does Peer Partnering in Spanish Class Assist the Learning Process?

The question on partnering came to me via a survey response posed by a Beginner 1 student. It wasn't necessarily a skeptical question, but just one in general. This question made me realize that it would be helpful to our participants to know some of the detail of language methodology and the "why" or "how" behind the activities we do in class apart from our immersion approach when delivering lessons.


Before answering how partnering does assist in language acquisition, I first must address the types of conversation practices that take place in each and every Speak Our Language class level and what purpose they serve. This will paint a clearer picture of our approach for those of you who have not participated in one of our classes. For those of you who have participated, it will give you a better understanding or a rhyme and reason, if you will, to all that we do.   It is also insight into how our programs develop the conversational skills in our very beginner level students up to advanced.

The three types of conversation partner practices (known as communicative approach practices in foreign language speakology) in Speak Our Language classes are as follows:

  1. Peer practices done in class with a classmate, using a guided list of open-ended questions to verbally work through and engage in conversation.  While working in pairs, the teacher circulates among peer groups to assist with or correct any language snafus.
  2. Teacher centered practices where the instructor directs questions to the entire class, or one-on-one to an individual student in front of the large group, in order to review brief and isolated concepts, thus allowing the teacher to model correct responses before students break into pairs.
  3. Real-life conversational practices done on the last night of class between a native-speaking conversation partnerand our students. This is done one-on-one or in small groups to review all concepts and themes learned during the 8 week course and to allow for natural and spontaneous conversation to evolve as well.

This latter type of conversation practice, conversing with native-speakers, is a popular activity and is also one of the key program elements that sets Speak Our Language classes apart from other institutions and programs. Because we provide our participants with an authentic opportunity to practice Spanish in a safe setting, this helps to bolster confidence in speaking and also connects our students to the Latino culture and community in a real-life and meaningful way.  

The second type of practice in class is teacher centered. This is most helpful to initially model how grammar and vocabulary intertwine, what variances there are in responding to a question and also how to model correct language for students.

Teacher centered activities should be balanced with student directed or student led activities.  Practicing conversation in pairs with the instructor intervening only when invited, or when the instructor deems necessary in order to lessen stress or frustration for the partner(s), gives participants the chance to take charge of their own language and at their own pace. 

Let’s consider the following six ways in which peer practice assists and benefits the learning process:

  1. In order to be orally conversant (not mentally, as in having a conversation in Spanish in your mind or conversing in writing in an email or instant message), one must physically verbalize thoughts aloud – whether alone in a car or in class with peers.
  2. You also have to get used to how your voice sounds in another language because it does sound funny to your own ear. I have met and even taught many folks who were so self-conscious of their voice that they would limit or even refuse to speak in Spanish. However, they would have excellent comprehension and listening ability. So physically speaking with others will allow you to develop an ear for better pronunciation and listening skills by tuning in to your own voice and theirs.
  3. Partner practices help you to develop one of the most critical skills in speaking, which is muscle memory. That’s right – you need to physically retrain your tongue and your brain in a second language to work together in harmony, and it is called muscle memory. The most easy way to develop muscle memory is simply to get the words out of your mouth.  That means not being afraid to speak and to make mistakes. Just get the words out – the perfection and polishing will come later.
  4. How many times have you said something and the person you were practicing with had a different way of saying the same basic thing? We learn to expand our vocabulary, expression, and ability to speak by incorporating ways others communicate during conversation. "What if my partner is making mistakes left and right that I can detect?" you may ask.  Simple:  model back to him or her the better or correct way to say something.  Not only will it help your partner to better his or her skills, it also makes you more of a teacher in that moment.  Research confirms that teaching any concept leads to you having a 75% or higher retention of that material!  So it is a win-win.    
  5. Your classmates have a variety of accents- some good and some, ahem, not so good. Even native-speakers of any language can have terrible pronunciation (not enunciating or murmuring while speaking).  By practicing with the teacher only, it will tune your ear to just that person’s intonation and accent. Practicing with classmates means you have to filter through a lot of “foreign” sounds and try to make sense of them – just as you do with native speakers. This is why or how our students with Speak Our Language learn to think on their feet and to listen to understand:  through the variety of practices experienced.
  6. Practice, practice, and more practice will make you more conversant and more "fluent" in the language. Period. The practices in class with classmates expand the amount of time and the number of opportunities to recall your vocabulary, think on your feet, employ your listening skills, hone in on pronunciation and develop muscle memory. That leads to better conversation, processing and listening ability, which leads to the effective interaction and engagement in the target language!

The three types of conversation practices in a Speak Our Language class: peer interaction, teacher centered and native-speaking conversation partners, all combine to provide our learners with a diverse way to test out and fully engage in Spanish conversation in meaningful and relevant ways in a safe environment. This is how our learners are able to converse in Spanish for 10-30 minutes after just 7 lessons.

Do the peer practices really assist with the learning process in the language classroom? That would be a resounding “¡Sí!

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or Facebook us to let us know how you are practicing your langauge skills in ways not mentioned here and you will be entered into a drawing for a $10 Chipotle gift card and a Spanish Conversation book to help sharpen those skills!

Four Reasons Why Poorly Written Signs in Spanish Just "Ain't Write!"

by Tonya Tiggett, Owner of Speak Our Language, LLC

In our January monthly eNews I posted a terribly written, grammatically incorrect Spanish sign that I saw posted on the back of a bathroom door at a very large, profitable restaurant chain in the Midwest.   I couldn't resist taking a picture of it and posing a challenge to you, our eNews subscribers and clients, to ask if you could find what was wrong with the sign.  (See the end of this article for answers).

Bathroom Sign Spanish

"Why is this such a big deal?" You might ask. "Can't you just appreciate that they made an effort in written Spanish for their Spanish-speaking employees, even if not perfect, and just leave it at that?" Here's the amazing thing; this sign was translated by a native Spanish-speaker! , it's true...

"Of course they know how to write perfectly and correctly," we think. "It's their native language."

"Ahh! (human buzzer noise) That would not be correct!" As my autistic middle school student Franklin used to blurt out when someone in our Spanish class stated an incorrect fact.  It's as incorrect as the title of this blog: i.e. incorrect verb choice and misspelling of the homonym "write" in the context above.

Reasons Why Poorly Written Signs in Spanish Just "Ain't Write:"

  1. Businesses hopefully take pride in accuracy and quality.  Therefore, any business should logically want to avoid incorrect language use being associated with its brand, particularly when it is as poorly written as this bathroom sign is. Why would a company want such signage posted publicly for bilingual customers to see? While many of you are not fluent, you are literate enough to know somethin' just ain't write with this sign!
  2. More importantly, what do Latinos think about this type of error? Speak Our Language and Accessible Translation Solutions conducted a survey on this question in 2012. 

    How much does it negatively impact your trust in a company when there is poorly written or grammatically incorrect information in Spanish? It impacts my trust …

    Survey Respondent Type A lot Somewhat Not at all
    Bilingual Hispanics 66.7 % 25% 8.3%
    Spanish-only or preferred Spanish Hispanics 100%
  3. For those of us who speak both languages comfortably, or primarily English, we may tend to take this less seriously or less offensively. However, the signage is not intended for those of us who are bilingual. If you go by our survey, the Latinos who prefer to receive information in their native Spanish clearly indicated that their trust is negatively impacted when companies make mistakes, like those on this bathroom sign. Remember, this sign is intended for them and it is their trust that will be tested.
  4. Translation errors make a company brand look cheap and culturally insensitive. The cost to hire a quality translation firm is worth it to get it right the first time around. Getting it right also gives the positive perception of quality and sensitivity to a consumer group whose buying power will top $1.5 trillion by 2015. We can break it down like this into hard dollars:
  • Quality and cultural sensitivity lead to trust with consumers
  • Trust with one's consumers leads to increased customer interaction
  • Increased customer interaction leads to increased spending
  • Increased spending leads to increased revenue for companies

It's a win-win for everyone. Silly mistakes on signs in Spanish dilute the quality of the company brand and while well-intentioned, they are actually messages of carelessness or insensitivity toward a specific customer base.

For example, how do you feel about the English in the sign below? This was published on the language website under their funny signs category. Ah, the irony. Makes you question the intelligence of the sign-bearer, no?   Poorly written information in Spanish, or in any language, makes us do the same thing with the intelligence of the company that commits such errors.


My plea to companies and to those of you in charge of translation:

  • Please get it right the first time and if you find a mistake - fix it right away.
  • Hire a professional to do your translation, like Accessible Translation Solutions.
  • Ask what process the translation company goes through to select their translators.  
  • If a firm you select does not use certified translators, meaning certified by an organization outside their own company, then keep looking.

For goodness sake, whatever you do, don't use online translation tools for final translations to be printed and displayed for the public consumer to see.  Even your in-house published information will be under the scrutiny of bilingual employees (who are also consumers) who also can, and will, spot the errors. 

Remember, the language you choose represents your business.  Period. If you cut corners you might end up with something that consumers will know just "ain't write" and they will be more than happy to go to the company who does get it "right."

Errors on sign:

  1. Employeados is not a word in Spanish. It is a poor phonetic transcription of "empleados" which means "employees" in Spanish. There should also be the phrase favor de after empleados to request the employees to do something. In this case, wash their hands.
  2. Lava is singular and in the wrong conjugation. Since it is employees (plural), the verb should be lávense or lavar either in command, reflexive form or the infinivite. This means "wash one's hands" in Spanish.
  3. Sus is a correct, colloquially used word (your) in this context but when referencing body parts it is more correct to use the definite article las which mean "the" in Spanish. We would say "your hands" in English and in Spanish it is "Wash the hands."
  4. There should be a preposition de between antes volver
  5. "A" requires "el" after it to say "to the job" in Spanish. So it would be a contraction Al that is needed.

Correct translations would be:

  • Option #1: Empleados, lávense las manos antes de volver al trabajo. (Correct)
  • Option #2: Empleados, favor de lavar las manos antes de volver al trabajo. (Correct and sounds a little more polite than the first one, so this is the best one to use out of the two).

How would this direct and poor translation sound in English?

Emploees washes their hands before to return to work.

Congratulations to our January SOL eNewsletter subscriber Tara Narcross who responded to our eNewsletter challenge to find the corrections.  Tara wins a $10 gift card to El Arepazo Latin Grill in downtown Columbus! 

For more information on this topic, or to consider bringing this topic to your company: * English Well Talking. Here Speeching America: Six Reasons Why Quality Language Services Are Critical for Your Company Brand is the title of a workshop that Speak Our Language and Accessible Translation Solutions provide to organizations for diversity or communications workshops.

5 Reasons Why Study Abroad & Language Learning Are Like Kindergarten

Do you remember your first day of school ever? Nervous energy, anticipation of the unknown, excitement at the thought of starting school on Monday, coupled with that dread of heading into unchartered territory without your parents or siblings there to comfort you.

What will it be like? Will anyone like me? Will I like my teachers? What will we do for fun? How do I get to the school? What if I get lost? Do I have to take the bus to school? Will I have homework (sadly a question now facing many kindergartners)?

These are some of the flurry of questions posed to me prior to embarking on our Speak Our Language Third Annual Study Abroad Trip to Cuernavaca, Mexico on June 9, 2012.  These were not questions thrown out by five and six year olds going to kindergarten, but by my adult language students with far more international travel experience than the average person. I don’t know why their nervousness surprised me, but it did. It also made me realize that regardless of our age or life experience, we are all like kindergartners on the first day of school in any given situation that is new and “unknown” for us.

If you decide to do an adult study abroad, be prepared for the following situations to repeat themselves from your first days or weeks of kindergarten. The good news is that crying and pants wetting are not on the list…

1.  Someone will need to walk you to school, drive you, or get you on the right bus so you don’t get lost. One of our married couples, Mark and Melissa, were accompanied by their host mother, Señora Ortiz, the entire way to the Cemanánuac school since they did not live as close to the school building as our other travelers did. This is exactly what my mother did on my first day of school at Maple Elementary in Orrville, Ohio: pointing out landmarks to me so that I would know if I was going in the right direction home on the return trip from school. Mark and Melissa were glad to have the personal guide in Señora Ortiz that first Monday morning of Spanish class in Cuernavaca, and had no trouble getting back home without their “mother,” who also provided landmarks to them along the way.


2.  Know the name, address and phone of your “parents” in case you get lost. In this case the “parents” are your host parents,  but you still need to know where they live, particularly since you may be headed to their (your) home from a part of the city you have never been in before. I clearly remember my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Sommers, quizzing us individually at her desk. I spewed forth the necessary data and got a cool hologram card in exchange for knowing my address, phone, first and last name of my mother. 

In Cuernavaca, everything is located by the “colonia” or neighborhood, with street names being duplicated in many parts of the city.   Unfortunately one of our married couples last year found out the hard way why knowing the colonia was so important; they had an address, but not the colonia and did not have the house phone number with them either to call for directions.  As a result of their 45 minute, improvised sight-seeing tour via cab, I now make sure that all my travelers have the following document (click here for a copy) where they can record the name, address, colonia, and phone of their host family. This document also includes a list of words and phrases to use along with way to help get you home. Although not as cool as a hologram in exchange for knowing your address, it sure beats being dropped off in the wrong part of town.

3.  Make a buddy on your first day. Our students are grouped by language ability with people from all over the country, and in some cases from countries half way around the world. Everyone is in the same boat, regardless if you are with a 17 year old from Louisiana or a 75 year old from Ohio. Because the class size is five or less students, you get to know each other really well during your one or two week program. You will naturally gravitate toward that friendly face who will be your lifeline during or after class each day: you are never too old for a buddy! My buddy in kindergarten was Doug Zimmerman, who also walked to school with me almost daily. We both lived on the same block so it was all for one, one for all if we got lost! 

This year our traveler David was the epitome of creating a buddy system during his two week stay. He worked with fellow school chum Susan (a kindergarten teacher from Colorado studying at our same school) over a two week period to help girls from a local elementary school complete math homework, including story problems. Susan showed David where the café was downtown for the tutoring sessions, and David discovered that his Spanish didn’t have to be great as long as he could say his numbers and have Susan help him to communicate with the girls when he got tongue-tied. He also discovered if he just said “Tú, mi maestra,” (you, my teacher) in broken Spanish that the girls would tell him the correct pronunciation, after they giggled of course!   Here is David with his mentee, 12 year old Esmeralda, who funds her school by selling jewelry to tourists like us. 

 mexico4 2 640x480

David also made it his personal goal to find a great “pub” near our school Cemanáhuac. When he made inquiries among the other students twenty years his junior, he quickly dashed all generational gaps and made fast friends, including his housemate Ed who was only too happy to oblige him as a guide / pub companion.In this case, having a buddy to help you get around the town, discover new places, and even work with a volunteer program in Spanish, not only benefitted the local school children, it also increased David’s Spanish skills, cultural experience, and helped create new friendships across generations and language differences.

4.  Know your ABC’s. Although anyone can participate in our adult study abroad program purely as a traveler and not as a student taking classes at Cemanáhuac, I do highly recommend that you know some basics before heading to Mexico. Simple things like: “Please.” “Thank you.” “My name is__.” “How much?” and being able to spell, are handy language skills that most people don’t think about when learning another language. 

Why is spelling helpful? You may need to ask someone to spell a name of a street or a business if you can’t understand their pronunciation. What if they need your name for a bus or hotel reservation but cannot understand it? So literally knowing your ABC’s can make your time abroad much easier and enjoyable. Speak Our Language offers beginning immersion Spanish classes prior to our annual Mexico trip to help simulate the immersion environment in Mexico. To help ease people into Spanish who may be rusty, we offer a fun conversation activity combined with tacos and trivia, appropriately coined “Talking & Tacos.” This is a free activity for our travelers (and only $25 for non-travelers) that helps to set the mood prior to the trip departure. Most importantly it provides some of those ABC’s to warm up your tongue in español.  

5.  Recess & nap time are still your favorite “subject!” Were you that witty kid who responded to your inquisitive elderly relatives that recess was your favorite subject? After a full two hours of immersion in Spanish, coupled with full immersion in the host family home and on the streets of Cuernavaca, the 20 minute break between your four hours of classes is like adult recess and is much needed. After all, you are processing simultaneously in two languages. Think of it like your brain doing push- ups for 120 minutes straight. Instead of slides and swings to rejuvenate you as a five year old, the adult you now needs good coffee, taquitos and guacamole from the school cafeteria at Cemanáhuac, and even shopping at the school courtesy of local vendors.

When class is over at 1PM and you have an all-afternoon “recess,” you can choose from excursions to places like Taxco, Tepotztlán, or you can do what some locals do: echar una siesta – take a nap. It is not unusual to need a nap after you return to your host home because your head is full of all that you have been learning. Also, learning another language, and functioning in it all day, is mentally exhausting. Period. So just like kindergarten when you had a chance to lay your head down for a nap from several hours of constant stimuli, don’t be surprised if you need to do the same thing during your study abroad experience.

So over the course of the fourteen days of our program that just took place June 9-23, my six adult students, ranging from late 30’s to mid 60’s, reenacted their first days of kindergarten, unbeknownst to them. The good news is that no one got lost, there was no crying or pants wetting, we had host mothers or housemates to show us how to find the school, everyone found a buddy or two to lean on, and recess was and still is the favorite subject as seen here!

P1020169 640x354

Click here for information on our Fourth Annual Mexico Study Abroad Trip or for our 2013 Day of the Dead tour to Oaxaca, Mexico.

-Article by Tonya Tiggett, Speak Our Language, LLC 2012

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