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!

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