Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Book Review: ¡A la perfección!

by Ann Abbott

Gac-Artigas, Priscilla. ¡A la perfección! Para dominar la mecánica de la escritura. New Jersey: Ediciones Nuevo Espacio--Academic Press ENE: 2009.

I coordinate the Spanish composition course at the University of Illinois, so I am always interested in reviewing new textbooks.

As everyone knows, when we teach Spanish composition we are teaching (at least) two things simulaneously: writing and Spanish. It's not always easy to give each part of that equation its due weight. So I was intrigued by the book by Dra. Priscilla Gac-Artigas and its subtitle: "Para dominar la mecanica de la escritura."

I'm a firm believer that our students need to be careful, accurate writers. Not so much because their literary analyses need to live up to their profs' expectations (which is what the author refers to in the preface), but because in the real world there are real consequences when we make mistakes with our writing. Filling out forms, leaving messages for people, writing notes, writing copy for websites...all require that we communicate clearly and accurately. We don't want people to click away from our website. But most importantly, we don't want our client to have to pay a fine (or worse!) because we gave inaccurate information on an important form.

However, ¡A la perfección! doesn't match with my goals for my students. First of all, the title bothers me. Really? Perfection? I don't strive for perfection myself, in my own writing. (Or in any other facet of my life.) I strive for other things--to inform my readers, invite them to share in the writing process (with comments, guest posts, etc.), motivate my readers, reward students by showing their successes, even to work things out in my own mind through the writing process. I do not strive for perfection, and I don't want to put that burden on my students.

First, I want my Spanish composition students to care about what they are writing. Then, I want them to simply go through the process/cycle of writing/rewriting to warm up and get practice. Thirdly, I want them to see the big picture--how does a piece of writing hang together in order to have an impact in the reader and highlight your knowledge as the writer. Finally, and I mean, LAST, I want them to pay attention to grammar and vocabulary.

If students were confident, practiced writers in their first language, we could start with the "mechanics." But I find that they usually aren't.

I see a lot of value in what Gac-Artigas has written. The exercises focus on common Spanish-language mistakes our students make. For example, In the first chapter there are exercises asking students to change the gerund in English into a noun in Spanish using "el + infinitive." That is indeed a common mistake that I personally find extremely irritating and even confusing when I read students' writing. But it--and the other grammar exercises--are presented in a decontextualized fashion, that I personally don't find useful.

¡A la perfección! is not perfect for the kind of writing I want my students to do and for the kind of writers I want them to become.

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