Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Quick Cover Letter Advice for Recent College Graduates Who Lived Abroad

by Ann Abbott

Some quick, quick advice before I start my work for the day:

Make sure the cover letters you write for jobs are more about the specific job you are applying for than the jobs you previously had. 

Yes, that means you need to customize each cover letter. Sorry. I know how much work that is. I really do.

Yes, that means that you need to use the same words they use in the job ad. They want to know you can do those things. Other things are good, but first you have show them that you are able to do those specific things that they listed in the ad.

Yes, that still means that you should elaborate by using specific examples, very specific examples, from previous experiences. Just remember that you are really using those specific examples to talk about this new job even though they are about your old job.

Here's what I wrote to a student:
I love the rich experiences you describe in your cover letter about your time in [another country]. However, I think the cover letter can do more work for you, and here's what I would do: yes, start with your experiences in [foreign country], but keep that short, more of a "hook," and then use the cover letter "real estate" to connect the qualifications and duties of the job to your experiences. And I mean literally connect them, even using the exact same words they use in the job ad. The person who reads this letter needs to be able to envision you doing this job, their job, not jobs that you have previously done. 
I try to help my former students during their job hunts and career transitions in any way I can. But there is a limit to what I can do for them because of time constraints. I always recommend that they work with my friend and colleague Darcy Lear at Her services are very affordable, and everyone who actually decides to work with her gets a great job.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Student Spotlight: Julie Lucas

Ÿby Ann Abbott

I'm just so proud of my students and the wonderful things they go on to do after graduation.

Julie Lucas--she will always be Julia to me--is one of those students. Take a look at what she did while she was a student, the program she went on after graduation, and her plans for the future. Would you would like to follow in Julia's footsteps?


Julia was in my SPAN 332 "Spanish & Entrepreneurship" course. She worked at both the SOAR after-school program and with Vida Alegre. For her community-based team project, she worked on a marketing project for the University Language Academy for Children.


After graduation, Julia spent two years in Spain, teaching English through the Embassy of Spain. 

Here are her own words about her experiences:

Hola Ann,

Vivo en Salamanca, y este curso será mi segundo enseñando en el mismo colegio que el año pasado. He vuelto porque me encantó la experiencia que tenía el año pasado y siento que todavía hay mucho que puedo enseñar, compartir, y aprender en la comunidad. La verdad es que Salamanca es como un segundo hogar para mi. He creado buenas relaciones con los profesores  del colegio donde trabajo, los niños del colegio, y amigos que he conocido el año pasado.

Este año, quiero dar un gran esfuerzo en un proyecto que tenemos en nuestro colegio que se llama The Comenius Project. Es un proyecto hecho en inglés con otros 10 países. La meta es mostrar a los niños la importancia de saber inglés y entender la cultura de los demás. El año pasado yo estaba involucrada en el proyecto, trabajando con el director del colegio y otros profesores de inglés. También tuve la oportunidad de viajar a Budapest con el director y viajar a Portugal con el director y los alumnos del sexto! Este año, quiero estar aún más involucrada en el proyecto porque el año pasado pude ver que había afectado a los estudiantes en una manera muy profunda. Ellos querían conocer más del mundo, tenían más ganas de aprender inglés, y cuando los alumnos de Portugal visitaron a Salamanca los niños estaban encantadas de mostrarles nuestra ciudad.

Otra cosa que hago en Salamanca es organizar Intercambios de Idioma. El año pasado, empecé a asistir intercambios en Salamanca, donde gente va para practicar inglés y español. Después de ir a unos intercambios, el jefe de uno me preguntó si quería empezar a organizarlos. Empecé y me encantó- he conocido gente de todo el mundo y a la vez puedo practicar mi español con todos. Este año he empezado otra vez y me gusta quedar con la gente de otros países y ayudarles si necesitan ayuda con cosas como alquilar un piso, abrir una cuenta bancaria, o no saben que tienen que llevar a la extranjería, etc. Yo tenía que hacer las mismas cosas cuando vine a España y la verdad es que me gusta mucho compartir mis experiencias y mis consejos con otras para ayudarles. Esta es otra razón que creo que me encantaría ser una consejera de estudios en el extranjero.

Pues, eso es un poco sobre mi estancia en Salamanca! Gracias, Ann! Hablamos pronto.


The future

Julia is making plans for her future. She wants to be a Study Abroad Advisor at a University, so she has looked into graduate schools for both International Education and Higher Education; both degrees will give her the option to become a Study Abroad Advisor. 

Julia, good luck with whatever you do!

Students, look over Julia's experiences and plans to find something that interests you. Would you like to live and teach in Spain? Would you like to work at a university in the future? Consider my former students your role models: you can do all the wonderful things they are doing, too!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Student Spotlight: Amanda Peña

by Ann Abbott

With some of my former students, I know what is going on in their lives because we are connected on Facebook. I see their pictures, hear about their jobs and watch their lives unfold.

With other students, I am aware of their development as professionals because we are connected on LinkedIn. I get to see where they work, what industry-related information they post, and watch them grow into new positions and jobs.

Amanda Peña is in the second category. She was a student in my "Spanish & Entrepreneurship" course, and she now works for a marketing company. I recently corresponded with her, and she gave me the following information to share. My hope is that her experiences will inspire current Spanish students to see what opportunities they should take advantage of while they are still students and what career path they might take after they graduate.

Here is Amanda's story. Look for ways in which you can follow in her successful footsteps.

What did you learn from SPAN 332 "Spanish & Entrepreneurship" and your CSL work that is applicable to your work in marketing? 

  • Strategies to gain support for a cause: How to talk to people about what you are trying to accomplish and demonstrate the value of it to get them involved. 
  • Analysis of a business: Identifying strengths, weaknesses and action items to improve. 
  • Best practices for using social media to engage with an audience: Activities we did in class taught me about writing short, effective and consistent tweets/messages/posts.
  • Networking, networking, networking! Supporting Lemonade Day showed me the importance of networking and building/maintaining relationships.
  • A new perspective: Most students tend to solely think about campus life when the Urbana-Champaign community comes to mind. I’ll admit I was one of these students too. Working at ECIRMAC opened my eyes to the issues going on “outside” of campus and gave me a deeper insight to the whole community I lived in.
  • Spanish: Working at ECRIMAC required me to speak Spanish frequently. This helped me continue to strengthen my Spanish speaking skills and expand my vocabulary.

Is there project that you did for "Spanish & Entrepreneurship" that had a particular impact?

The Lemonade Day volunteering project was a big success from my group. Our task was to promote Lemonade Day to business owners and educate them on the cause in order to get their support by making donations for prizes. We created flyers, labels, and informational pieces (as leave behinds to stay top-of-mind).  We collected passes from local movie theatres, a hat and t-shirt from a bookstore, family ice skating passes and gift certificates from an ice cream store.

Did you study abroad? Where and for how long? 

Barcelona, Spain: Summer Semester 2008 (five weeks)
San Joaquin, Costa Rica:  Spring Semester 2010 (four months)

Monday, October 6, 2014

Fun, Engaging Classroom Activity for Students to Debate about Bilingualism and Immigration in the United States

"Spanish in the Community" students doing today's activity.
by Ann Abbott

This week students in my "Spanish in the Community" course were assigned to watch my friend and colleague Kim Potowski's video, No Child Left Monolingual (watch it; you'll enjoy it!), and one of her articles, "Sociolinguistic Dimensions to Immigration" Lengua y migración 5:2 (2013), 29-50.

Before class, I wrote down note cards with things Americans often say--awful things about languages and cultures or things they are simply confused about:
  • I came to this university to study computer science, not Spanish. Why am I required to study a language? That makes me mad!
  • I'm not Irish-American; I'm just American. I don't believe in all this "heritage" baloney.
  • My great-grandpa came from Germany and learned English. Why can't these Mexicans just learn like he did?
  • If we don't all speak the same language, everything will just be utter chaos.
  • My pediatrician told me that my bilingual child is not hitting speech benchmarks. What should I do?
  • English is the most important language in the world. We don't need any other languages!
  • Why should I care about anybody's heritage language? That's their issue!
  • I don't want any of my hard-earned tax money to go for English classes. Make them take an English test before they get into the country.
  • Some people are good at languages, some aren't. How do you expect us all to be an "English +" country?
  • Our school is broke. Why in the world should we be spending on bilingual classes?
  • Spanglish is for dummies.
  • Our country is under attack by all these immigrants! English is under attack!!
I lined students up across from each other. 

The students on one side received one of the note cards. They had to play the role of a nativist (or someone who simply doesn't know about bilingualism, immigration, etc.). They read the words on the card to the student sitting opposite of them. They had to debate and defend that nativist viewpoint. They were even allowed to argue their points in English. That's what nativists do, after all.

The students on the other side had debate, educate and inform the other person about that topic. They had to use the information they learned from Kim's video and article, from their experiences in their community service learning work, and anything they have learned in other courses (Bilingualism in the US, speech and hearing science, bilingual ed, etc.).

They debated for five minutes.

Then students in one row had to move down one seat so that they were sitting across from a new person. I rotated the notecards in the opposite direction. This way everyone was able to debate a new topic with a new person. They did this for five minutes.

We did this for a total of six or seven times, stopping for a moment after each round to see if they had any comments. And, boy, yes, did they have comments!

You can watch these very, very short videos to see how students engaged with the each other and with the activity.

There is a lot of noise about flipped classrooms. I say that in language classrooms, we've been flipping things for a very long time. Still, I think that this is a unique example of a flipped classroom in a language course. Why?

  1. Students had to read and prepare at home.
  2. In class I didn't teach them any of the concepts in Kim's video and article. We didn't sit around in a circle and discuss them. They had to apply what they had seen and read to the activity we did in the classroom.
  3. The students were in control of the activity--I just set it up. For forty minutes out of a fifty-minute class, all I said was: Go! Stop! Switch! Go again! Stop! etc. If they had questions, they raised their hands and I went to them to answer them. But otherwise, they had complete ownership of the activity.
In our next class I'll remind them that we didn't just do this activity in order for them to practice Spanish. Or to regurgitate ideas from Kim Potowski's work. They actually had to use the content and reformulate it for a different purpose: the purpose of refuting mistaken notions about bilingualism and immigration. 

I also want them to know that it goes beyond their learning. We did this so that they will feel empowered, the next time they encounter someone who says these things--and they will!--to be able to respond with real information and facts.

I invite you to use this activity with your students. If you do, let me know how it goes, please. And feel free to share in a comment the great activities that you do with your students.

Community Service Learning and Study Abroad

Click on the picture to see a slide show with pictures and information.
by Ann Abbott

My facebook friend Beatriz Urraca posted the other day about a community service learning course she is co-leading in Mexico this January 2015. The course is offered through Widener University. (I love the fact that "Civic Engagement" is a prominent tab on their univeristy's home page.)

I'll let you take a look at the slide show to see more details, but what I love about this trip is that it focuses on indigenous communities, the cooperatives they have built as solutions to the challenges they (not outsiders) perceive as important.

This looks like a great model of a short-term, study-abroad community service learning course.

Who Wants the Language Police Breathing down Their Neck?

by Ann Abbott

I followed @ORTOGRAFIA on Twitter because I liked the first tweets I saw:

  • They explained some common spelling mistakes that I thought I might retweet because they could be helpful to students.
  • They shared uncommon vocabulary that sometimes I didn't even know. I think it's always fun to learn new words.
But once I followed them, I also got the messages like the one above that felt like I was being scolded. Judged. Better not make any mistakes, stupid!


See, I don't even disagree with the tweet above (Quien ignora la ortografia también ignora que perderá respeto, credibilidad y admiración.) It's true; people do judge you on your writing abilities.

But the people who matter also judge you on the worth of your ideas. Your character. Your honesty. Your willingness to communicate. To communicate in writing. Your warmth. Your smile.

Let's be careful about the messages we send to our students. If I found @ORTOGRAFIA to be demoralizing, what might it feel like to a learner who is already feeling shaky about her Spanish? To a heritage language learner who feels hounded (and still confused anyway) about v and b, z and s, ll and y. And those accent marks!

We need to work with our students on their writing and spelling, of course! But let's just make sure that our tone isn't one of judgement {your spelling is bad and so are you} {people are looking at your mistakes, buddy} {you don't stand a chance unless you're perfect}.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Things That Have Made Me a Little Sad Lately

by Ann Abbott

The Tutoring Room

When I walk past the Spanish tutoring room, it's great to see students in there, using the resource. It makes me sad, though, to hear what they are using it for. Every single time I walk past, I hear them going over grammar rules with the TA. Now of course I know that grammar is important. But it's not everything. And it's not what makes learning a language wonderful and perspective-changing. For most people, at least. 

I never hear anyone talking to the TA about culture. About ideas. About a reading that caught their attention and they want to understand a little better. About an idea for their composition that they want to talk through before sitting down to actually write it.

The Tutoring Room seems to be the Grammar Room. 

Students pay attention to what we grade, not what we say. We must be grading a lot of grammar. Or maybe I have it all wrong and it's just that students think that a foreign language is grammar. Maybe.

"I'm Not Ready for This Course Yet"

If you're a little lost in a language class, you're exactly where you're supposed to be. Don't drop a course that is challenging for you. That is how you improve--you challenge yourself; you soak it in; you work hard to pay attention; you celebrate getting the gist; you raise your hand and give incomplete, grammatically incorrect answers; and you celebrate the fact that you raised your hand at all!; and you look back at around mid-November and say, "Wow, I've come a long way."

In my Business Spanish class, I've done away with exams. They work on projects. They collaborate. If your Spanish isn't great, you'll be working with someone whose Spanish is somewhat or a whole lot better. Your non-linguistic ideas and talents will count! Speaking fluently isn't the only measure of success in my (and others') Spanish classes.

Please stay in my class. We'll get you through, and you will have learned, really learned something on the other side. In a Spanish class, I am convinced that it is as much about the experience as about "proficiency." I have a note on my desk that says, "It's not about getting it done. It's about doing it." I truly believe that.

Students Judging Students

It works two ways. First, you have the students who feel that everyone in the class speaks better Spanish than they do. Yes, there are students at many different proficiency levels in our classes. However, students who feel intimidated by others' Spanish often mistake fluency for proficiency. They don't catch the mistakes those students actually do make. They don't realize that what students say is so much more important than just how they say it. They fail to consider that to become able to speak at the level of those other students you have to go through this level, you must go through this level, you cannot get around going through this level. The one you're at. The one where you're going to be for a while. You can't wish your way out of it. You have to practice your way out of it. The only way to "level up" is take care of your business as your current level.

And then there are a few students who judge the students who don't speak as well as them. Who haven't had all the classes they have had. Who haven't studied abroad. Who don't know as much about the world. Honestly, though, those students are very few and far between. I look around my classes and I see lovely, caring students who help each other out. They lift each other up. They answer their questions in English once they get into a small group. (No, speaking a little English to help out a classmate is not a sin, though we do need to keep it under control.) They'll point out the place on the page when the "weaker" student loses his place. They'll play the role of editor on the team project. They'll give that scared student some words to say when their group has to get up and present, but they'll carry most of the load.

I wish I could give these students the gift of confidence. I wish they would look at the students with stronger Spanish as role models, as something to work towards instead of feeling intimidated.

And I wish that students of Spanish who really do want to get better would work at it more. (And I don't mean more homework! More memorization.) I mean incorporate it into their lives more. If you're going to go out for lunch anyway, why not invite an international student from a Spanish-speaking country to go with you. If you're going to listen to your iPod while walking to class, subscribe to the Radio Ambulante podcast and listen to it. If you're going to relax in the evening by watching a movie, watch one that was filmed in Spanish. Or put on the Spanish subtitles while you watch a movie in English. You really do have to work on it. Three hours of class per week just isn't enough.


This one isn't about students.

It's not that meetings per se make me a little sad. It's meetings run the same way yet expecting a different outcome that make me a little sad.

If you regularly have meetings with a regular group of people and the outcomes of those meetings are regularly not that great, you'll always get the same results if you don't change something. You could change the people. Or you could change the meeting. (Hint: it's really hard to change people.)

This is especially sad when difficult, complex issues need to be addressed in a meeting, and we know perfectly well how it will go before it even happens: these people will talk often and authoritatively; those people will be silent throughout; that person will get into the weeds; this person will throw out a big-picture statement that derails what seemed like progress; most people will leave the meeting feeling like real change is out of reach.

But I am an optimist by nature

Even though this has been a difficult summer/early fall (children at our border; bombing of Gaza; Michael Brown's shooting in Ferguson, Missouri #handsup #dontshoot; the Salaita case at my university), I am a naturally happy person. I like people. I like life. I love my job. But I'm also an honest person, so I try to honestly talk about both the good and the bad.

Has anything been bothering you lately? Or the opposite: has something made you particularly happy lately? Tell me the good and the bad in a comment. Let's keep it real, together.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Workflow Tips for Team-based Social Media Marketing

Call La Línea at 217-417-5897.
by Ann Abbott

After editing, posting and scheduling the posts that my Business Spanish teams had prepared this week for La Línea's Facebook page, I wanted to share the following information:

No formatting 

Facebook posts don't allow bullet points, tabs, or other kinds of formatting. So when you prepare your posts first in a Word document, Google doc or wiki, don't use formatting that will be lost when it is copied and pasted to Facebook.

Links or pics 

You cannot have in the same post a link (with a preview) and pictures. Once you put in the link with a preview, the option to upload a photo disappears. You need to decide. Or put the link in a comment below your post. You need to think that through.


Don't forget that you're not just doing social media, you're doing social media marketing. La Línea is a telephone. In fact, when Lisa Sink and Muong Saeteurn came to our class to introduce themselves and La Línea, Lisa held up their flip phone and said, "This is La Línea." That means that their marketing must use the phone number often: 217-417-5897. People need to see the number a lot (a lot!) before they memorize it or just simply associate it with the name La Línea.


An organization's name is perhaps the most important part of their brand. Therefore you must be consistent with how you write it. Our community partner's organization is: La Línea. You cannot write it like:
  • la Línea. Both l's are capitalized. Always.
  • La Linea. You have to write the accent over the "i." If you don't know how to do that, you have to find out.


These might seem like small things. They're not. For the first two, you will slow down your workflow if you don't pay attention to these things. For the second two, that's your job. That's the whole reason why La Línea "hired" us to do their Facebook posts. It's also the reason why you're doing this in a Business Spanish class.

Gracias por su trabajo. We're coming along, and we're all learning a lot in the process.

How to Give Feedback so the Other Person Hears Both the Positive and the Negative

by Ann Abbott

Fridays are "Consulting Workshop" days in my Business Spanish class.

(Reminder: my Business Spanish students are doing the social media marketing on Facebook for La Línea. There have been challenges, mostly because I was strapped for time to do the careful, intense editing that the posts need before being published. I´ll write about that another day.)

I had planned to teach them about preparing original images instead of always using things they find online. I was going to show them how to do images using PowerPoint (like the one above), PicMonkey and Canva.

Instead, I realized that I needed to use that time for editing: for them to edit each other!

First of all, I knew that if we didn´t use today´s class time for editing, I might not find the time after class. That would put us behind on posting again.

Secondly, I wanted them to go through the experience of looking at a post with ¨fresh¨ eyes. To see a post for the first time and analyze your reaction to it. Were you confused by something? Did a typo stick out like a sore thumb to you? Did you feel like the written text and the image didn´t go together? Did you see a chance to include some other relevant information? If the post told you to send a message, did it also tell you how to send that message?

It´s so hard to edit our own work. It´s all perfectly clear in our heads, so we don´t see what is missing from the writing.

So, each team had to analyze another team´s posts (unpublished, but shared in our course wiki) and give them feedback.

As I heard them give feedback, I heard things like (in Spanish), ¨Your post is really good, but...¨ ¨I like the picture, but...¨

At the end of the feedback sessions I told them what I had heard and suggested that they say this instead:
  • ¨Your post is really good, and I think you should add La Línea´s phone number.¨
  • ¨I like the picture, and I think a picture with people in it would convey your message even more strongly.¨
  • ¨Your message is very compelling, and there are some grammar mistakes in Spanish that need to be corrected.
When you use the word ¨but,¨ it often feels like it cancels out what you just previously said. It cancels out the good stuff!

If you use the word ¨and,¨ you are simply offering additional information to the positive information you just gave.

This is very valuable! Whether your talking to your boyfriend-girlfriend, your employees, your potential client, your mother, your students, whomever. 

And it´s very simple! Just change one word. Just use and instead of but. In Spanish, use y (thus, the ¨y¨ in the photo at the top) instead of pero.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Why a One-Size-Fits-All Bio Might Not Be the Most Effective

Click on the picture to see the 9th edition of Dicho y Hecho; the latest edition isn't quite out yet. 
by Ann Abbott

Kim Potowski, a friend and colleague at the University of Illinois and all-around academic extraordinaire, shared on Facebook the bio that goes along with the newest edition of the textbook Dicho y hecho that she co-authored with another friend, colleague and amazing woman, Silvia Sobral.

I love the story that Kim's bio tells: her own story as a Spanish language learner, both in the classroom and abroad.

Kim's bio could have gone many different directions--her research, her teaching, her awards, her advocacy--but for an intro-level textbook she chose to tell a story that was closer to the project itself. And closer to the students who will use the book.

This made me think about how I would write future bios for myself.

For my two textbooks (Comunidades: Más allá del aula and Dia a día: de los personal a lo profesional), I could follow Kim's bio very tightly:

I was raised in a small village in Southern Illinois, where my interest in Spanish was sparked in my classes with Miss Eddings. While doing my B.A. in Spanish at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, I fell in love with Spanish, both in the communicative classrooms that Bill VanPatten and Jim Lee had created and during my wonderful junior year in Barcelona, Spain. ... One day I'll have to finish this bio.

Here are some other bios I could write and how I would slant them:
  • Community service learning. I would name my community partners and explain their role in my courses and my students' learning.
  • Technology. I would highlight my personal learning network (PLN), name platforms that have been most important for me, tout the potential of virtual volunteering in CSL and mention my experiences with campus-level IT shared governance.
  • Teaching. I would zoom in on one student in particular and tell a story about the arc of their learning in my classes--and afterward.
  • Languages for Specific Purposes. I would compare the reading and analysis of a short stories and business cases. I would share examples of client-based projects my students have done.
  • Entrepreneurship. I would recognize my father and my husband as entrepreneurs and role models for me.

There are so many more examples of how I would write a bio that reflects a particular facet of my professional life. What examples do you have?

Friday, September 26, 2014

Simple but Important Tips about Making Videos for Social Media Marketing

by Ann Abbott

Every Friday is ¨Taller de asesoría,¨ or Consulting Workshop day in my SPAN 202 "Business Spanish" class.

So what did we do today?

We practiced making original videos for social media marketing.

Our client, La Línea, gave us ideas for posts they would like to have during the month of October which is Immigrant Justice Month, sponsored by CU Immigration Forum. Here is one item:

·        What does social justice/immigrant justice mean to you?
Interview a few community members and ask them to try to answer this question in one to three sentences. 

Of course you could approach this a number of ways:
  • Do an email interview and post it as text.
  • Do a telephone interview with the person, write up the interview notes, look up a picture of them online and post the write-up along with the picture.
  • Meet them face-to-face, film them answering and upload the video.
From my experience working with students, I have seen that they are very adept at searching online for information, pictures and videos. That is a good skill to have.

But they seem to be less practiced at creating their own on-line content.

So today I had them practice creating videos by filming each other as they answered the question, ¨What does social justice-immigrant justice mean to you?¨ 

You could tell they were nervous! They thought a long time about their answer. Then they thought even longer about how to say it in Spanish. And then they really got nervous when they had to say it into a camera!

I didn´t give them any instructions, just told them to use their phones or other devices to take the videos and upload them to our Facebook Page: UIUC Spanish Community Service Learning. I wanted to see how they approached it and what they results would be.

We analyzed them and noted the following things that are important for anyone who is making and posting quick, low-tech videos for social media marketing:
  • Problem. Our instinct is to take the videos vertically. However, after we upload them online, they show up skinny on the screen, with a lot of black on both sides.
  • Solution. Remember to hold the camera horizontally when you take a video. It's not easy! We're used to holding our phones vertically. But the outcome will be better if you hold it horizontally, especially if you upload to YouTube.
  • Problem. The sound in the video is very low. This is very, very annoying to the viewer. I would even say that it is better not to upload a video than to upload one with poor audio.
  • Solution. Get closer with the phone! It doesn't have an external microphone, so you need to get close. Closer! Closer still! Yes, you will probably end up seeing mostly the person's face in the video. Yes, you will feel a little uncomfortable getting that close. But you really have to in most cases.
  • Problem. There is too much background noise, and it interferes with being able to understand what the person on the video is saying.
  • Solution. Always, always find a quiet place to film. Even the wind can cause distracting background noise--I learned that the hard way!
  • Problem. The person speaking in the video talks too softly and/or doesn't look/speak into the camera.
  • Solution. This is tough. Some people are just naturally shy. You can try to film again, asking them to speak louder and into the camera. If that doesn't work, then maybe it is just best to take a picture of the person (if they allow it) and write up their answers. That's okay, too!
And here are just a few additional tips:
  • Length. How long should a video be? Well, go to your Facebook page right now and scroll through your feed. When you see a video that is 30 seconds long, what's you're reaction? When you see one that is 5 minutes long, what do you do? Then just make a mental note of which videos you click on during the next week, and which ones you don't. I say to do this because it's easy to say nobody watches anything longer than 2:00. Well, it depends! There are some 30-second videos that are 25-seconds too long. And there are some 3:00 minute videos that keep me entranced. Don't make them long, but do think about what you're trying to achieve with the video. Too short can feel like you missed something important.
  • Raw or edited? If you know how to edit video, then do it. Even just a little editing can take a video from good to great. Honestly, I don't know how to edit video. Rather, I haven't taken the time to practice it enough to actually do it when I need to. If your videos are informational, just focus on giving really great, clear information.
Students did a second round of filming and uploading. The videos were better. The students still weren't entirely comfortable filming and being filmed, but I think it broke the ice and made them think more about how they can create their own short videos for social media marketing purposes.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Help at Parent-Teacher Conferences this Fall

by Ann Abbott

Whether you're a former student, a current student, or just a person from our community who speaks both Spanish and English, please consider helping at Central High School's parent-teacher conferences!

Here is the message I received yesterday.

Dear Dr. Abbott,

We are once again in need of volunteers to help with Spanish translating during our parent teacher conferences next month.  Last semester your students help was a godsend.

I am hoping you can help us again this semester?  Our conferences are Thursday, October 23rd from 5:00pm to 8:00pm and Friday, October 24th from 8:00am to 12:00pm.  If you know of anyone who might be interested in helping, please have them email me at  or call me at 217-351-3911. 

Thanks in advance for any assistance you can send my way!

Joanie Strater

Main Office Secretary
Champaign Central High School
(217) 351-3911
(217) 351-3919 Fax

Monday, September 22, 2014

Fresh Ways to Use Traditional Textbooks, A Series

What I carry to class.
by Ann Abbott

I'm not afraid to admit that I use a textbook in my Spanish for Business course (Éxito comercial). Sure, I wish it was less expensive, but I think that it offers students--and me--a lot of value: he information they have compiled and presented in coherent ways, the vocabulary they have distilled and defined, the audio exercises, video exercises, short case studies, maps, charts and so much more.

Although I know the students will probably sell the book at the end of the course, I wish they wouldn't.

I wish that they would keep it as a resource. That when they get jobs they will look up information about the countries where their company does business. That they'll reflect on the cultural information and strategies the book presents.

But in the meantime, all I know for sure is that I have three 50-minute class sessions with them each week. I try to make those count.

Here's what I did today. It's all based on the textbook, and it's not the boring, "En la página 33, lean la sección X y contesten las preguntas al final. Ahora lean la página 34 y contesten las preguntas al final.¨


At home and before class, students have to read the section that is indicated in the course calendar, choose three of the "¿Qué sabe usted de...?" questions at the end of the reading and upload their answers to our online course management system.

Because they choose which three questions they answer, today I did this with them:
  • I told them to raise their hand if they answered question 1. Those who did, I put in pairs. 
  • Raise your hand if you answered question 2. Those who did, I put in pairs, and so on until everyone had a pair. 
  • Then I told them to summarize for their partner their answers and compare/contrast the information they included. 
  • Then they had to find a different partner to compare/contrast their answers with.
  • Then they had to find a another partner to compare information with.
What did this achieve? Well, first, it holds them accountable for their work. It isn't just something they upload; it is information they will be expected to use. Second, it keeps the class dynamic and changing. Third, they get to know their classmates better. And finally, they are speaking Spanish--and using the textbook as a support if they need it, as you can see in the picture above.

The reading

Before class, students had to read Chapter 3's "Lectura comercial: Requisitos y modelos administrativos estadounidenses e hispanos."

After the homework activity I described above, we dove into one specific part of the reading. I went over the information on page 63 about the skills that make a good manager. There are five "habilidades" listed in the textbook: técnicas, interpersonales, conceptuales, diagnósticas y analíticas.

I led a discussion about those five skills, clarifying their meaning and giving concrete examples. This lasted about five to seven minutes.

Then I assigned five students *one* of the habilidades. Those five students sat in a line facing the back wall. The other students sat in a line in facing those students. For five minutes, the students facing the back of the room had to interview the student facing them about that one particular managerial skill. For example, Christian had the first skill, "técnicas." He had to interview the student in front of him, Grant, about his technical skills and managerial experiences using that skill. 

This wasn't easy! Some students don't have a lot of experience to draw upon. Others have a lot. But they managed to keep the conversation flowing very well for four or five minutes.

Then the students facing "the interviewers" all had to move down one seat and for the next four to five minutes they were interviewed about their experiences with the next "habilidad." For example, Grant now had to move down and sit across from Mónica who interviewed him about his ¨habilidades interpersonales

To give you an idea of how well this went, you can click on this very short video and listen to them talking to each other in Spanish.

Textbook activities

Because I knew that I would have more than ten students for the above activity, there would always be ¨extra¨ students waiting to be interviewed. 

I planned ahead for that.

I printed out four activities from the book and taped them up in different spots in the classroom. The ¨extra¨ students had to answer one of the question or do the exercise as much as they could in the four or five minutes that the other students were using for their interview ¨turn.¨

My favorite: the second page from the top on the photo above. On page 62 of the textbook the authors include the quote, "It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to lose it" by Warren Buffet. I asked the student on the paper to give an example. He wrote about Donald Sterling. What a perfect example.


I often describe my experiences in grade school and high school as this: "Read the book and answer the questions." Honestly, that was basically it. Except for my junior high teachers Mr. Parrot and Mrs. Todd who did very creative things with us.

I want to be my students' Mr. Parrot and Mrs. Todd.  

But I don't always want to create a curriculum from scratch, either!

Using a textbook isn't always the right choice. But for me, for this course, it is.

If you'd like to see the other posts I've written so far about using the textbook in creative ways, click on the titles to read them:

Do you use a textbook? Do you have ideas for me? I'd love to hear from you in the comments.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Student Spotlight: Amanda White

Amanda White
by Ann Abbott

I have already featured Amanda White on this blog several times. However, the other day she sent an email about her Fulbright experience in Brazil that just blew me away. It touched on so many things that are important to me and many of you.
  • Her love of languages.
  • Her nostalgia for the countries in which she has lived and studied.
  • Her abilities and challenges as a student of the liberal arts.
  • Her ability to see how languages, countries and cultures all connect and influence each other.
I'll let her message speak for itself. 

Oi pessoal!!!

I've just caught up on rest after two weeks of traveling in Brazil and realized it's time for another update. This one will be a bit longer to share about my travels in São Paulo. To see photos from São Paulo click here. By next week (hopefully), I will send another email about my travels in Rio de Janeiro, Iguazu Falls, and Salvador.

The Fulbright midyear seminar in São Paulo last month was really great! I'm happy I got to visit São Paulo, the biggest city in the Americas with about 20 million people living in the metropolitan area and about 12 million in the city center. The city also boasts one of the largest immigrant communities in Brazil. I especially loved this and enjoyed the diversity particularly through food (Uberlândia lacks in this area, Brazilian/Mineiro cuisine 24/7 with the exception of one Mexican, one Thai restaurant, and lots of sushi).

For the first time in months, I enjoyed spicy Indian cuisine. My absolute favorite was finding a Spanish tapas bar and restaurant. The name of such a fine establishment? Sancho Bar y Tapas (as in my literary heroes Sancho Panza and Don Quijote de la Mancha!!). By far, one of the best meals I have ever had. The decor was spot on. As we walked in, I saw the bar lined with pinxos (pronounced pinchos) just like in Northern Spain. Bottles of wine were stacked along the brick walls and legs of jamón hung from the ceiling with care. The restaurant layout was long, stretching into the back, and narrow just like many European buildings.

Spanish was everywhere. Quotes from Spanish poets and writers were written on the brick walls with chalk. The menu had dry red wine (not very easy to find in Brazil. Brazilians tend to love sweeter things, including their wine). Bullfighting posters hung on the walls along with pictures and paintings capturing well-known moments from Don Quijote de la Mancha (DQ and Sancho were everywhere in this place). I especially loved the Spanish and Brazilian flags hanging side by side on the wall. I was in my element. I had the best of both worlds in a single place. 

The food was delicious and the waiters even spoke Spanish. We had such a good time. At one point during dinner, I turned to my friend Amber (my orientation roommate in Brasilia and ETA in Rio Grande do Sul aka, gaucho land), we grasped each other by the arm and within seconds of the other we sighed, "I think I'm going to cry." Cry from pure joy of course! Great ambiance, great food, great company.

We also enjoyed a few of the museums in São Paulo. My favorite was the Portuguese Language Museum. A museum about a language? Yes! It was super cool and interactive. It was fun to see the linguistic influences of Brazil's indigenous languages, African languages (due to the slave trade), French, English, Spanish, and Arabic in shaping Portuguese over the centuries. I particularly enjoyed reading on a giant, wall-sized timeline about the influence of Arabic on Portuguese. It shares similar history to Spain, in which the Moors occupied the Iberian Peninsula for several centuries. I tend to forget about Portugal as part of the Iberian Peninsula (oopsies). Then of course, the Americas were "discovered" and Arabic influenced Portuguese arrived to the new world. I find it so fascinating how languages are malleable and ever changing.  

Another really cool museum was the Soccer Museum, located in the same stadium where Pelé scored over 200 goals. Charles Miller, born to a Scottish father and Brazilian mother with English descent in the state of São Paulo, is credited as the father of soccer for Brazil. When he was young, his parents sent him to school in England where he was introduced to soccer. He later brought two soccer balls, cleats, and a rulebook back to Brazil. The rest is history. Inside the museum they also share World Cup history, information on Brazil's most influential footballers, and more. I have never missed playing soccer so much until living in Brazil.

The conference was very well done just like our orientation. It was really fun to see everyone again and swap stories. Many of us shared the same feelings about our overall experience despite our very different locations. It was comforting and validating, even encouraging. Besides lectures, we participated in group activities and attended workshops lead by fellow ETAs. We enjoyed company from the Argentina and Uruguay ETAs (their programs are much, much smaller than ours. I also mistakenly said Paraguay in the last email). It was interesting to hear about their experience as well. 

One of my favorite speakers was Tom Healy, the Chairman of the Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board (le gasp!). He, his 11 fellow board members, and thousands of petitioners successfully fought hard to protect the Fulbright program from major federal budget cuts (I sent an email about this earlier in the year). For now, the program stays as is. I encourage you to read the history of the Fulbright Program here. 

Stemming from that discussion, Mr. Healy shared why he thought intercultural programs are so important even in this age and how we show its importance and success since we live in a quantitative era desiring specific measurements. So, what are we quantifying and testing for in programs like the Fulbright? How is it measured? Well, it's hard to measure because.... 

...basically, we as Fulbrighters, and by extension study abroad students and other cultural exchange participants, are US ambassadors working on the ground with everyday people in their everyday lives. Fulbright also welcomes exchange students from other countries to the US. Through these interactions, we build friendships, trust, and mutual understanding between cultures. This is the main focus instead of metrics and data. It may not seem like a big deal, but it truly is. When we make friends, we lose enemies and gain allies. Sounds peaceful, right? 

Mr. Healy is a poet and Liberal Arts and Science (LAS) guy to the core. A fellow ETA asked Mr. Healy if his present self could give his 22-year-old-self advice, what would it be? Mr. Healy responded, "I would say to worry less about defining yourself. Ease up on yourself, you'll be just fine." 

This really resonated with me, and I think many other ETAs felt the same way. Mr. Healy believes that LAS students and alumni (like me) in particular experience a great deal of pressure to be, to find something, or have a title if they are not entering a specialized profession. I've struggled with this and spoken to some friends and family members about the subject. I found Mr. Healy's words encouraging and validating. My path is unconventional and that's more than okay. One way I can ease up on myself is to stop using conventional norms to guide my unconventional journey.  

These were some of the highlights in São Paulo. Others included sharing specialized coffee at Coffee Lab in the bohemian neighborhood Vila Madalena, seeing amazing street art in Beco de Batman, walking in Ibirapuera Park, and visiting the Afro-Brazilian Museum within the park. It was fun to experience the local culture and enjoy the enormous city after our daily conference activities. 

I have about 9 more weeks in Brazil, which will be over in the blink of an eye. We ETAs spent months anticipating the midyear seminar in São Paulo. Once it was over, it was hard to say goodbye. Luckily, I will see some of my ETA friends in the States when we visit each other and keep in touch. It's amazing how despite not knowing each other very personally, we become very close when together. 

I think this is because we share a unique experience, which few outside of such an experience could fully understand and relate to like culture shock, language barriers, and expat lifestyles unless they've had similar circumstances elsewhere. I don't consider this bad. It's just a different way I relate with others in different relationships. I enjoyed witnessing this bring us together and feeling a sense of family when so far away from my own. I'm very grateful for it. 

Thank you for reading through this e-mail (as well as each one I've sent!). I know it was a bit lengthy, especially because I doubt I will write a blog post anytime soon. I'm doing my best to be present in each moment while away from the computer, and not to cut those enjoyable moments short. 

Stay tuned for Rio de Janeiro, Iguazu Falls, and Salvador. Hope everyone back home is well!

Um abração,


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Info City CU: A Model of Public Engagement and Technology

Click on the picture to go tot he web site.
by Ann Abbott

Yesterday I attended a meeting with our campus' new CIO, Mark Henderson, and a group of people from an initiative called Info City CU.

It was a positive, exciting meeting with like-minded people. One of those meetings in which you leave feeling really energized and happy that you work in this organization with really good people.

You can find out more about Info City CU at their website, but here are a couple of things that stood out for me.

One of the attendees likened an Info City to the older model of an Industrial City, in which the city was built up around corporations and organized according to their needs. In contrast, an Info City allows us to learn from the mistakes of the Industrial Cities and create a more just Info City. That was very helpful to me.

I also learned some new things and new terms. I had never heard before about:

  • One Web Day 
  • Webliographies, as opposed to bibliographies. Here is an example of a webliography.
  • Digirati, as opposed to the literati. Thinking about the digital divide, describing it and trying to eradicate it are very, very important projects.

Course about Social Innovation with a Trip to Ecuador

by Ann Abbott

Course envy.

That's what I am feeling right now. This looks like such a wonderful course! It's something that I would love to teach.

In fact, it is what I teach! But in English. With a trip to Ecuador.

But my course envy is students' opportunity to do something wonderful. I hope they will sign up for this course and do great things!

Click here to see the course website.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Articles of Interest in The Journal of Languages for Specific Purposes

Click on the photo to go to the journal.

by Ann Abbott

Thanks to the NOBLE newsletter that Mary Risner sends (email here if you´d like to receive it, too: by, I learned about the Journal of Languages for Specific Purposes.

When I began scrolling through the first issue´s table of contents, it seemed to me that the journal was focused on quantitative, very specific linguistic-type research. That doesn't speak to me.

Then I scrolled some more and read abstracts for these articles that do, indeed, interest me. Click on the links to read the full articles.