Category Archives: Teaching Methodologies

¡Vayase! – Get Outta here! parte II

43 days later –  Buenos Aires –  departamento que da a la calle, el 3 piso, con balcón (mi eleccion de modo que fue posible ver todo el mundo desde mi dormitorio)

Luis is already in the throws of “fining tune”, (that´s “fine tuning” en inglés) MY well thought out choices for my VERY OWN SOLO experience here in Buenos Aires.  “Honey, are you sure you want to be so close to that busy street… you will never sleep at night.”


Luis:  “What time are you meeting this guy you will do that work with?”


Luis:  “Maybe I’ll go to the bookstore where you’re meeting him too, because I have a couple of books I want to buy for my classes. ”


1 hour later – Bookstore Coffee Shop – Joan and Dr. Cabeza sipping espressos y platicando  (going well)

Luis:  “Hola, mi nombre es Luis, soy esposo de Joan.  Mucho gusto.  Yo estaba buscando libros para mi trabajo, soy profesor de español en el estado de Minnesota, cerca de Canadá.”


Luis:  “Honey, sorry to interrupt,  I just wanted to ask you if you want me to look for a good cookbook for us to take home with us.”

Dr. Cabeza:  “Mucho gusto Luis.  Por favor toma un asiento.  ¿Quieres un cafecito?”


Following day – address in hand – making a dry run on the Subte toward place of  ‘pacentia’

Luis:  “Okay, what you want to do is get here early, cause you can see that it’s total chaos at this time in the morning.  Now, you don’t have your purse do you?  Remember how I told you to keep all your stuff in your front pocket and be alert to the people on your sides and behind you?” 


Next day – first day of pacentia – Joan heads out alone – but this, only after very long discussion the night before about how Joan has already lived 50 years very successfully on this earth, at times even averting danger due to her measured caution, agility and general lack of stupidity.  The deal was sealed however only after an agreement to carry mace concealed in closed fist and to check in by cell every two hours. 

Joan has effortlessly negotiated 3 subway lines and 8 blocks on foot,  is almost at the clinic door where she will begin her first day of work.  An experience, born of an idea, that she took from it’s vaporous inception all the way through to it’s no ‘detail left unplanned for’, reality.  (well, except for the buying of the plane ticket)  She will be working with a well known and respected Psychologist, Director of a Clinic for chronic drug and alcohol dependents, the same man who was appointed to this position by the Argentinean Undersecretary of Mental and Chemical Health who in turn reports directly to President Kirchner.  She will be meeting with this Undersecretary later in her pacentia and could even score an introduction to the Prez himself.

Just a few steps more and Joan will be ringing the bell of the Clinic’s unassuming and secured front door.  Suddenly, out of no where she feels the presence of someone walking up way too fast behind her.  It feels as though this person does not intend to pass on either the left or the right, but is heading for a direct hit to her back side.  Joan thinks quickly and remembering that one of our best allies is the element of surprise,  she decides to interrupt the forward momentum of this person but stopping abruptly and whirling around to face them.  To add more confusion and by so doing maximize her advantage as well hedge her bets by alerting those people on the other side of the street that there is something happening on this side, she decides to yell, “¡Vayase!”  simultaneously.

1.5 seconds later, plan in place – Joan executes it

Joan:   Stops, whirls, yells – “¡VAYASE!”

Person:  Unintelligible scream, then;  “Honey, ¿Qué haces?   ¡Me matas de susto!”


Luis:  “I just wanted to make sure you got there safely.”

The people across the street stopped for a moment, looked our way, said something to one another shaking their heads as they spoke, then continued on.  It was pretty clear Luis and I knew one another – I suppose we looked like just another couple that could use the help of a counselor.         Stay safe and keep the love alive!   Joan

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“Sólo nos queda pedirles que oren por nostros” – “I Only Ask that You All Pray for Us”

This is the way Álvaro, our author from Honduras, signed off on his note to me this morning.  I had been watching the news yesterday and saw how violent things continued in that country due to the recent “golpe de estado” that had occurred the week before, and wrote him a quick note indicating that he and his family and his country were in Luis´ and my the thoughts and prayers – adding the mother’s reflex, (begging the obvious that goes out to all regardless of their relation to us)….”Cuidense mucho”.

He described briefly the up to the moment having to do mostly with looking for the ‘good’ in the ‘bad’ and his ‘resigned reflections’ on human nature;  “There is more concern and worry with each day that passes , but no deaths yet.”  “Seven million people have been impacted by the spoiled childish political ambitions of one.”  “So many people both inside and outside the country have fallen victim to propaganda and believe that the ‘victemizer’ is actually the ‘victem’.

Now read this however you wish…the truth is, I do not know the political leanings of Álavaro…he writes for La Casa Rojas about how he experiences his life in his country, and one´s experience of one´s life is personal and universal simultaneously.

And it is this last point that I find fascinating …. our experiences are at once personal and universal.  I will be putting up Álvaro´s third installment of  “Domingo negro en Honduras, Historia de una crisis”later today.  With one final note of disclaimer I sign off for now…..La Casa Rojas is about giving outsiders an insiders point of view … we are not promoting the politics of any particular group … and our personal points of view are not necessarily reflected in the articles we publish.   Paz,  Joan  Editor in Chief, La Casa Rojas – the magazine

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Aprender español es como enamorarse – Learning Spanish is Like Falling In Love

It hits us without warning and really quite out of the blue… our heart races at the thought of it, our pupils dilate, our thoughts obsess with desire.  We imagine whole worlds opening up before us, yielding access to exotic people and adventure. 

We attend our first date, I mean class, and we are not disappointed; rather hopeful, excited even as we picture ourselves tucked away at some great café in a little seaside pueblo, eating ethnic delicacies while discussing art and philosophy with really interesting people.  Our fantasy continues for about 6 or 8 more classes but then our romantic illusions begin to be fade … the reality of the long hard road we must take to reach that pueblo and café and new found friends tempts us to believe we´ve fallen victim to silly romantic folly and nothing more.  That there is just no way before middle age or retirement or before we die, we´re going to be able to gain the skills necessary to comfortably and independently make our way in this new language. 

BUT  –  just like we have to care for and nuture our relationship with our new love if we want it to go anywhere, we must care for and nurture our dream to speak another language if we really want to make a life with it.  All work and no play – not fun, nor productive. Textbooks have their place, and so does bringing home the bacon, but textbooks and bacon alone do not garantee a happy-ever-after ending.  We need to find ways to feed that original passion to keep it alive if we are to live our adventure to it’s fullest potential.

For me this meant searching the Internet for stuff to read that interested me. Armed with my dictionary, it would take me literally hours to get through an article.  But I stuck with it cause I wanted the information.  In order to understand the information, I had to be able to understand what I was reading …. so the carrot to learn? …. interesting information.  

So do what it takes….travel, read, listen to music, but keep that dream alive.  What is it they say?  ‘No one looked back on their life and wish they had worked more!’   If we only worked as hard on keeping the romance alive as we did on our verb tenses.      Joan, Editor in Chief, La Casa Rojas

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We ask your understanding and indugence, maybe even your forgiveness…

………for how we appear in our introduction video for our new on-line magazine, La Casa Rojas – It’s pretty obvious that we are not professional talking heads or pitchmen.  We are two people, happily married, blessed to share a passion for the Spanish Language and the cultures from which it grew who want to share our passion (the part about Spanish) with the world.

When we made that video, we had not slept much the previous 5 weeks…much meaning,  3 to 5 hours a night for me and 0 to 4 hours a night for Luis.  My eyes were dark and I had to over animate to break through my fatigue and Luis looks almost like he’s sleeping with his eyes open.  We are reluctant public figures and so we ask you to forgive us for not being polished and flawless. 

We also want you to hold us accountable for the value of the information we offer you.  Teaching  language and culture comes with a responsibility to present it with respect and in it’s authentic context.  Language after all is how we express who we are in our very depths and there is not one of us on this planet that don’t value almost above all else, being heard, being understood.  We want our uniqueness, our self hood acknowledged. 

So as you watch our intro video, please look past our humanness, no wait, on second thought go ahead and look closely at our humanness and see in it the authenticity of our work.  If we are to really know one another, we must be okay with allowing ourselves to be known.  Each article that you will read in La Casa Rojas is real piece of life offered to you by real people.  They are not slicking things up for you, they are telling you like it is, from their perspective.  If you want to know us, know them, know their cultures, know their language, you have the information before you, all you have to do is receive it with an open mind.   Bienvenidos a nuestra casa,  La Casa Rojas,   Joan y Luis

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Here’s My Unscientific Conclusion – Twitterer’s Hate Spanish Class

I am a new Twitterer, and like many others, I’m liking it, getting a bit addicted and am wondering how much more business Blackberry and iPhone are getting as a result of this microblogmania.  I wonder that, because I am thinking I want something other than my little hot pink basic phone that will make it easier to access and participate with abandon. 

One of the things I’ve done on Twitter is sort  my incoming Tweets for “Spanish”, just to get a sense of what people might be saying in and around the focus of my life and career.  OH MY GOSH!!!  I am learning how much, so many, hate Spanish classes!

I had this urge to “reply” to each and every one and urge them to hang in there, find another source to learn, immerse themselves in the culture, etc. etc.  How could something I love so much, be the bane of so many others?  But I resisted, I haven’t “replied” to anyone yet, I am still more a voyeur.  Voyeur in the sense of apprentice.  I will interact more, once I think I get it and can do it responsibly.  And I don’t think “replying” to the hundred’s, maybe thousands of “Twitter Spanish Class Haters” would be a welcomed use of, nor a good way to introduce myself.

Two questions then;  “Is iPhone, Blackberry and other like type products enjoying the ride thanks to Twitter?”,  “What is going on in Spanish classes across the world, that so many people are hating them enough to broadcast it globally?”

Adelante con Twitter.   – Joan

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En Voz Alta…

So I was in a class the other day, yes Spanish class of course!, and I jumped in to make my comment and oh my gosh!  Who was that talking with my mouth?  They did NOT say what I had so neatly and precisely accented in my head!  It is like this other creature residing in my skin takes over my tongue and lips and puts my teeth in another configuration and then steps back and watches me with evil glee as I try unsuccessfully to negociate a simple message. 

What is that?  It can be so perfect in my head and then the second I open my mouth it’s a disaster!  It’s maddening and as much as I try to have control over this phenomenon, I don’t seem to be able to call up an Oscar winning performance on command.

So what do I do?  Well, I listen to a lot of Spanish news through Internet radio, through TV, I go through the videos in our Online Video Program and I listen and repeat the audio files designed for this purpose, again and again.  This exercisese is not about understanding or absorbing….this exercise is about getting my tongue familiar with new movements.  I put on music and I sing the lyrics.  Luis and I read together….he reads first and I read the same thing after him.  Just like one runs each day to train for a race coming up, I listen and repeat what I’ve heard in Spanish until I get as close to the rhythm and cadence and accent as I can. We train and exercise our muscles for strength and flexibility.  There is no break through science here.  And maybe I find myself repeating after someone who is speaking in a way that I would not prefer to sound like in Spanish when I am simply expressing myself, but to be able to mimic flexibly what I hear, only helps me choose how I want to sound.

As I am pondering this recurrent issue (remember what they say about exercise, 36 hours without it and our muscules begin to atrophy to their previous state) we recieved this message from Everett from our Rojas Spanish Community .

A mí me gusta la literatura, especialmente la poesía. Como ya he continuar aprendiendo español, espero que yo conoceré a algunos de los grandes poetas de América Latina un poco mejor, como Pablo Neruda, Octavio Paz, Jorge Luis Borges, Nicolás Guillén, Luís Palés Matos-, etc, etc.

En este momento me siento muy la suerte de tener un maravilloso amigo, Marvin. Él está ayudándome a aprender español por los poemas de Pablo Neruda. Marvin es originalmente de Guatemala. Hemos comenzado un nuevo método de estudio esta semana: todos los días, mientras que tenemos que estar trabajando en la YMCA, nos sentamos con unos poemas de Neruda. Nuestro pequeño master class se lleva a cabo completamente en español, ¡no importa cómo estoy frustrado! Primero él lee un poema en voz alta, luego lo leo en voz alta. Entonces él me pregunta si hay alguna palabra que no entiendo. Después él lee el mismo poema otra vez. Entonces él me pregunta lo que creo que está pasando en el poema. O más bien, ¿por qué Neruda escribió este poema? Entonces le pregunto lo que él piensa acerca del poema. De esta manera leemos dos o tres poemas todos los días en el lugar de trabajo. Aprendo español mientras que él…que él…pues, bueno, a él le encanta Neruda, por lo que él puede obtener algo fuera de la discusión también. Creo que vale la pena leer la poesía una y otra vez, sobre todo en voz alta.

Everett reads in “voz alta” again and again and he works with his friend to help him fine tune the accent.  Yes!  This is the way… we have to get it OUT of our head and on to the track.  We have to get it running through our mouths…without this exercise we can not expect to be able to sound they way we want.  So turn on the tunes, get out the poetry book, grab your Spanish speaking friend, fire up the Internet….do what is most comfortable and convenient for you to get access to those sound bites that you can hear and say, hear and say, again and again until no one would know you from the person you are mimicking.  It’s the only way guys.  Hasta el próximo,  -Joan

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Beware of Inspiration

I am told that I am married.  Though the first thoughts that come to mind is “Really.  To whom?”  And then I remember the muted noises late at the night coming from the upper room.  “Oh, that’s who’s in that room,”  I squint my brain to remember.  I was getting accustomed to the idea that the mice were back.

He works early, really early.  Starting at 3 AM often.  And he works late, really late.  Until 2 or 3 AM is not unusual.  And during the day he you could find him in his first class as early as 6 30 AM and on it goes through out the day until he finishes at times as late as 9 30 PM.  I remember vaguely once or twice putting my foot down about the weekends;  “No more weekends!”, I implored,  “We need our time together, you need time to rest.”   But I don’t see him more as a result.  He just spends the time he would have spent with students, with his computer instead.

I may be setting up the perception that he does all the work and I do none of it.  But caution would be wise here. Though I do have to admit I am not one to survive without sleep and must make regular visits to my bed to recharge, aside from those 6 or 7 hours, I am working as well. In fact I vaguely recall looking up from my work and to my left to see him working just a few feet away, though  he may as well be a few hundred miles away because he is lost to communication by the depth of his concentration.  To be fair, he says the same about me…and it’s true.  I have heard the faint echo of a familiar voice asking me something but typically it’s from so far away that I find it difficult to make out the words and so I just don’t respond.  I opt to say deeply immersed.

The culprit?  Ah, before you go jumping to “a marriage crumbling”, “a clash of cultures”, “diagnosable”, remember your own inspired times.

There is something really space consuming about inspiration.  Something colorful, something HD, something that gathers you up and whisks you away to that reality.  Something definitely time bending.  And you know that you’re it’s giddy partner in crime when you look up and you cannot believe that 2 hours of class have just flown by or when you finally stretch your aching neck and realize that you have been watching on-line videos for an hour and a half or when your 5 mile run felt like 5 minutes because you were listening to Spanish podcasts along the way. 

This is our goal, this is our mission.  To grab you by the hand when you least expect it and whisk you away on some wild, inspiring, intoxicating adventure in Spanish so that when you fianlly look up and take note of your surroundings, you will be amazed at where you are and what time it is.  May you find yourself keeping us company in the wee hours of the morning, lost and happy and deeply inspired.     -Joan

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