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Monthly Archives: April 2015

Spanish as a Foreign Language

David Sedaris had it right when, in Me Talk Pretty One Day, he complained:

“I’d hoped the language might come on its own, the way it comes to babies, but people don’t talk to foreigners the way they talk to babies. They don’t hypnotize you with bright objects and repeat the same words over and over, handing out little treats when you finally say ‘potty’ or ‘wawa.’”

Learning a new language isn’t easy, but it’s a skill that’s valuable and special like none other. However, there are always some languages that are easier to learn than others depending on your own native language. In this post, we’ll be focusing on the comparative ease a native English speaker may have with learning Spanish than many other languages.

Spanish is incredibly similar to English in many ways and is thus one of the easiest for native English speakers to learn. What’s more, apart from English and Mandarin Chinese, Spanish is arguably one of the most useful languages for a person to learn today (the third most spoken in the world).

According to the University of Oregon’s Department of Romance Languages, “Spanish is the official language of over twenty countries in the world, and it is the de facto second language of the United States.

Of course, for certain parts of the U.S., Spanish is more important than others (for example, learning Spanish will likely be much more valuable to a native English speaker who lives in Texas than one who lives in North Dakota).

But what does it mean for Spanish to be ranked as one of the languages most closely related to English and one of the easiest for English speakers to learn? Quite simply, it means that, by the measures created by The Foreign Service Institute of the US Department of State, it should (supposedly) only take a student 23-24 weeks of study (for 2-3 hours per day) to achieve Speaking Level 3: General Professional Proficiency in Speech and Reading Level 3: General Professional Proficiency in Reading (amounting to a total of 575-600 hours of study). Now, I know that this may seem like a tremendous time commitment at first glance. But when you really think about it, when you really consider the awesomeness of achieving fluency in another language after not even half a year of study, those 600 hours might not seem quite so intimidating.

These are the keys to the study and learning of any foreign language:

  • constant practice,
  • an unwillingness to be beaten by the intimidating largeness of another language,
  • and an unwillingness to allow oneself to be embarrassed about sounding silly every once in a while.

It won’t be easy – but it’s within your reach! And it’s certainly well worth your time and efforts.

After all, learning a foreign language has more benefits than simply helping you pass a class or find your way to the bathroom in a foreign country. Learning a foreign language can help you “improve the functionality of your brain by challenging it to recognize, negotiate meaning, and communicate in different language systems”; improve your memory; help you strengthen your brain against diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia; improve your decision-making skills; and even improve your mastery of your English (assuming, of course, that you’re a native English speaker) and English grammar (Anne Merritt, “Why learn a foreign language? Benefits of bilingualism,” The Telegraph).

Some Spanish Language Studying Tips:

  • Sign up with a Foreign Language Tutor! Though tutors don’t come free, they come with a ton of benefits that simply can’t be found elsewhere: individualized attention, another person dedicated to helping keep you accountable and focused, a safe and quiet space to study, a safe environment to practice speaking and reading skills with another person, and an expertise that often includes cultural tips and insights not found in many texts and workbooks
  • Have a set time every day for you to practice your foreign language skills (reading, writing, speaking, and listening)
  • Try a variety of different workbooks and systems out until you find that which best suits your needs (both learning and financial)
  • Try watching films in Spanish without subtitles and see how well your listening comprehension skills improve day-by-day; engaging with these kinds of arts are not only useful for boosting listening comprehension but also for learning about important slang and cultural mores
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Tips for Beating the Rainy Day Drag

Spring rains got you down? Lack of spring rains got you down? Don’t let it keep you there! Now is the time to start anew! Here are a few places and creative ideas to get you started, whether you’re a parent, student, or teacher:

Creative artists keeps a sketchbook where it is filled with sketches, rough works and unfinished art whenever inspiration strikes and they have new ideas. Writers have journals for very similar purposes where they write random drafts, pen down their thoughts and record events.

… So why shouldn’t scientists practice likewise?essay writing photo

  • Take a look at Educational Technology & Mobile Learning’s “20 Apps and Tips to Help Students Study Better” (Disclaimer: Tutoring 101 cannot speak from personal experience regarding all of the apps discussed here)
  • Whether you’re a student, parent, or teacher, try taking up a new hobby or discipline this year. Don’t get outdoors much? Take up gardening or a sport, or start walking neighbors’ dogs for extra pocket money. Like working with your hands? Try woodworking, drawing, book-making, or sculpture. Pay that guitar you never play some attention! Try listening to those Spanish tapes you never even opened! Give yoga or meditation a go! Taking up something entirely new is a great way to keep your creative juices flowing while making your down-time more productive and rewarding.
  • Start a blog of your own! Blogs are terrific for connecting with others, whether you’re a mom or dad looking for new parenting ideas, a teacher looking to freshen up a lesson plan, or a student in need of a poetry outlet – blogs can be a great resource as well as a great tool for exercising those writing, reading, and research muscles
  • A Special Note for Teachers of Online Courses: Give Errol Craig Sull’s “Student Engagement in the Online Classroom” from The Chronicle of Higher Education a read if you’re looking for tips on how to keep your students interested and participating in distance/online courses.
  • Drop us a line, of course! At Tutoring 101, we have plenty of tutors who are ready and excited to help you have the best school year possible
  • Get down to business on SAT/ACT prep—spring is definitely a key time in getting ready for summer-scheduled exams. For more ideas on this end, visit here

Talking About Race: Part Two

I know that the idea of talking about race with your kids – for many parents – can be about as scary and uncertain a territory as talking about where babies come from (if not more so). Many parents are concerned, and rightly so, that to talk about race with kids is to risk the unintended implanting or reinforcing of stereotypes and issues that they themselves carry. We discussed this in some part in our previous post, “Talking About Race: Part One.” Whatever the reason, there’s no way to escape the fact that – thanks to the current state of our country, laws, and systems – race is a significant part of our culture, and ignoring it or pretending it doesn’t exist won’t make things better; it’ll only leave our kids unprepared.

Recently, I went to hear Ta-Nehisi Coates – a writer, activist, and Atlantic senior editor – speak on “The Case for Reparations” at Loyola University in Baltimore. And while I learned many fascinating and deeply important things regarding the issue of reparations (you can read his article on this topic by clicking here), what I’d like to share with you is this (paraphrasing): If you want to consider yourself a part of a community or family – e.g. an American – then you can’t simply come out on holidays and celebrate everything the community’s done well. You have to embrace the burdens of your community, the problems and debts it owes, along with the benefits and victories.

In other words, part of being an American now is understanding what America has done well as well as what crimes it’s committed/committing. Being thoughtful, critical, and honest about our country as it is and as it has been isn’t being unpatriotic or un-American – it’s being constructive; it’s being useful; it’s being the voice of real love in the family when the family’s in trouble. We can’t sweep race and its many related issues under our collective rug. We can’t come out on MLK Day and celebrate Dr. King’s legacy only to then dishonor and stomp all over it by pretending that the struggles are over and done with.

I know that race is a contentious topic for many people, but that’s why it’s so vital that we continue to educate ourselves and talk with our kids about it. In addition to the tips we mentioned in Part One, here are a few other ideas to consider:

  • Make it clear that the celebration and importance of learning about Black History doesn’t end on March 1st. Learning about new cultures and peoples different from ourselves—no matter our race, religion, gender, or background—is important all year round.
  • Experiment with reading new voices (both alone and with your kids) like Ta-Nehisi Coates, Toni Morrison, and Clarissa Pinkola Estés
  • Try talking with your kids’ teachers to see how the school is handling (or not handling) the subject of race
  • Try blog-surfing with your kids to find and read works from other young people (and maybe even kids their own age) related to the subject of race (make sure the blogs are critical and thoughtful, though, and not just spouting negative, prejudicial nonsense). This can show your kids that they can be a part of the conversation as well, that they can have some power and speak up for what’s right. As a starting place, try out the Nerds of Color blog:

We are a community of fans who love superheroes, sci-fi, fantasy and video games but are not afraid to look at nerd/geek fandom with a culturally critical eye.

elementary-kids

Helping Your Kids Handle the Boogeyman: Anxiety

When I was a kid in middle school, I got some of my first experiences with the monsters Anxiety and Depression—and I got them close-up and personal, as my younger brother began showing symptoms of the latter. Anxiety and depression can often be difficult things to recognize (many kids go without necessary medications because of lack of medical care/diagnosis while others become over-medicated and over-diagnosed), as they are often disguised by or confused for things like anger, defiance, lack of confidence, mischief, and shyness. As Holly Robinson explains for Parents Magazine,

Unfortunately, many parents and teachers perceive symptoms of anxiety—like refusing to go to school or use a public restroom—as defiance. Anxiety may also be mistaken for (or even mask) other developmental disorders, such as ADHD, depression, or learning disabilities, so it’s important to identify anxiety early and help your child learn to manage it.

I know that, for my brother, his depression often reared its head in anger, in bursts of fathomless aggravation, temper, and self-loathing. —Things his teachers often misunderstood, things that often left him feeling isolated from others kids at school, things that I rarely understood myself as a kid; and all of these only worked to exacerbate his fears and symptoms. Fortunately for us, our mother was proactive, able to do her research, get us out of schools with willfully ignorant teachers, and get us all the help we needed.

In Jane E. Brody’s “Helping Children Gain Control Over an Anxiety Disorder” (New York Times), she references Dr. Golda S. Ginsburg, a Johns Hopkins University expert in childhood anxiety, saying, “childhood anxiety disorders typically result from an interaction between biology and environment. For some … there is [also] a strong hereditary component” (qtd. in Brody). What’s more, parenting styles and behavior can also have an impact, perhaps especially in cases of “parents who are overprotective or overly controlling, who constantly identify dangers in the child’s world” (Ginsburg in Brody).

Similarly, psychotherapist Tamar E. Chansky suggests that, for parents trying to help their children deal with anxiety issues, the goal should not be “to put down children’s fears but to help them see that their fears are unwarranted and that they can overcome them” (qtd. in Brody). Brody outlines some of Chanksy’s “‘master plan’” for helping kids deal with anxiety:

The key takeaway? Don’t blame your child or yourself for their anxiety and/or depression. These are boogeymen that feed on things like blame, stress, and insecurities. Be sure to talk with your children openly, your doctor, as well as your partner and friends—you can’t help your children handle their anxieties, depression, and so forth if you aren’t getting the help you need to handle it all as well.

Further Readings:

The Changing Face of Higher Ed

Recently, The Atlantic published Derek Newton’s “Higher Education Is Not a Mixtape,” in which he argues that – contrary to many popular arguments and articles – higher education is not going the way of the music industry (i.e. people won’t begin shopping for individual professors instead of for universities the way they now shop for individual songs instead of for entire albums). Along the way, Newton makes some compelling points:

Though many universities have not done a great job of keeping up with technological advancements or at keeping costs down, many of the people making arguments for the tech future of higher ed are also personally and financially invested in the companies and technologies necessary to make this future possible. Moreover, the arguments for increased technology and the “unbundling” of higher ed also seem to be missing a basic truth: Unlike music – which listeners buy because of the artist, not the artist’s record label – students “shop for schools, not professors” knowing that their future career success is often tied, at least initially and in part, to the reputation of their university.

However, a simple (and obvious) response to many of Newton’s arguments is: Yes…for now.

As a more recent graduate of an MA program, I well remember just what “distance learning” and “online learning” courses can look like – and it wasn’t pretty. This gets back to Newton’s concession that many schools and degree programs haven’t done a great job of keeping up with the technological times, so that if they do offer online courses and learning opportunities, many of them aren’t yet all that they could be (which means that many students either elect not to use them or view them as a last resort). But this isn’t something that’s likely to last for much longer, and improved distance learning tech could very well lead to an “unbundling” of universities, to a marketplace for professors and courses over entire schools.

Given the constraints of rising tuition rates coupled with the increased number of non-traditional students (e.g. middle-aged and older adults coming back to school for degrees, training, certifications, and so forth), online learning opportunities and distance courses are likely to only increase in number and quality over the next few years. These increases will undoubtedly change the way people view online opportunities and, in turn, how they shop within the industry of higher education generally.

What’s more, many institutions, like Ft. Worth’s TCU for example, now offer comparatively cheap, non-degree opportunities (both online and in-person) to students (traditional and non-traditional alike) who are interested in auditing particular courses rather than in pursuing a full degree. This trend may be evidence that certain demographics are in fact interested in shopping for higher ed opportunities on a professor or course-basis rather than on a university-basis, similar to the trend of buying a $0.99 song rather than a full album.

In my opinion, Newton throws his best possible argument for the traditional college experience under the bus by only barely mentioning it in his final paragraph:

In the current system, it may not be efficient to maintain fine-arts programs, but most people think it’s important to have them. It has long been part of colleges’ mission to expose students to new ideas and disciplines. On campus, even business students, for example, are typically required to study literature and other topics in the humanities. Some may call that inefficient; others call it essential.

As a liberal arts student myself with three degrees, including English and American Studies, I appreciate better than most the difficulties and benefits of pursuing an education that doesn’t directly lead to an obvious, lucrative career path. And there certainly are difficulties – jokes bashing the putative usefulness or wisdom of liberal arts degrees are classic and many professors within these fields do an amazingly poor job of discussing with students just how many career opportunities are (or will be, could be) available to them. Thus, many students either prematurely cross liberal arts programs off their list or graduate from them without a full appreciation of just how flexible and useful they can truly be.

To me, the bashing or general rejection of liberal arts degrees only shows a lack of creativity on part of all involved. A degree in English, after all, doesn’t limit a person to Writer, Teacher, or Unemployed. As Walt Whitman once wrote, “I am Large. I contain Multitudes.” There is more to a student than their degree just as there is more to a degree than its acronym. Education, like life, will – in large part – be what you make of it. Similarly, there are more jobs out there, more possibilities and opportunities than you can ever account for, because they – like the higher ed industry itself – are always changing. And that’s part of what a liberal arts degree is great for: teaching students how to think (for more on this particular point, see David Foster Wallace’s 2005 Kenyon College commencement speech) and how to grow with changing times.

Ultimately, I think the future of higher ed falls somewhere in the middle here, in a combination of distance/online and in-person learning, of professor-shopping and university-shopping. As our student bodies change and grow more diverse, so must our learning opportunities. This isn’t a time to throw away all we’ve built in higher ed, but neither is it a time to try stalling change and growth.

*For those who’re interested, here’s the audio of Wallace’s speech:

Further & Related Readings: