Sunday, January 16, 2011

Teaching Business Spanish at the Elementary and High School Level

by Ann Abbott

I just returned from the 3rd Annual K-12 Language for Business Conference: Technologies and Tools for a New Language for Business Course.  It was held in Miami and Sponsored by Florida International University's Center for International Business and Education Research (CIBER).  There were tracks for teachers of Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese and Japanese.  They planned to offer Arabic, but not enough Arabic teachers enrolled.

At ACTFL conferences I have interacted with some elementary and high school language teachers, but this was the first time that I had been involved in an event that focused solely on K-12 teaching.  It seemed that many of these teachers were already highly professionalized--which is wonderful to see, given all the criticism we hear about our schools. Some were already teaching business in their language courses, some came from "academies" that focused on business, and others wanted to incorporate business content into their regular Spanish courses.

The day began with Dr. Emily Spinelli's talk, "Using Business-Related Content to Enhance Language Courses."  Dr. Spinelli is the Executive Director of the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese (AATSP).  She covered much ground in her talk, beginning with statistics about the declining number of US students studying foreign languages and ending with a concrete example of business realia that can be easily found and incorporated into a series of activities: the business card. I don't have her specific example to share, but you can see that the business card at the top of this post (which I found with a Google image search for "tarjeta de presentación") is rich in cultural information that is important for globally savvy students to know.  Dr. Spinelli's sample activity asked students to fill in a chart with the name of the company, services offered, street address, zip code, etc.  In her example business card, like the one here, that information is presented in a format that is probably unfamiliar to most of our students. Likewise, most US students will not know what the 1a planta and 2a planta mean.  Even the telephone numbers have an unfamiliar format--what is the area code?  As you can see, we can use authentic materials to teach business content, without needing an MBA ourselves.  (On a side note, Dr. Spinelli mentioned "t-shaped skills" in her talk, a term I had never heard of before but that is a good description of the kind of teaching we do in business languages.)

Following the keynote talk, a panel of Spanish, Portuguese and Japanese teachers presented their challenges and solutions.  They shared examples of student work, sample activities and ways in which this can be incorporated into advancing students' language proficiency.

Three breakout sessions completed the day.  I gave the first Spanish session, "Practicing Basic Office Tasks for Language Proficiency, Transcultural Competence and Professionalism." Using the examples of taking telephone messages, filing and greeting clients, I illustrated that these seemingly easy tasks actually require linguistic skills and cultural knowledge that our students simply do not gain in a traditional classroom. Furthermore, students often assume that these basic office tasks are easy or "beneath them;" instead, they often struggle to complete the tasks correctly, completely and in culturally-appropriate ways.  I shared related activities from Comunidades: Más allá del aula.

The second session--"How to Create Communicative Tasks for The Spanish Business Classroom"--was given by Dr. Melissa Baralt (FIU). Her session was a huge success!  She modeled what she was teaching by also running the session as if it were a classroom completing a series of communicate activities.  She shared many examples of activities that take a familiar format and insert business content.  In other words, there is no need to abandon communicative, task-based instruction just because we're teaching business content.

Finally, I gave another session: "Teaching Hard and Soft Skills in K-12 Business Spanish: The Case of Social Media Marketing."  I wanted to end the day with a session that was a bit heavier in business content.  I will share the power point slides as soon as I can get everything from the conference organized.

It was very nice to participate in this conference. My special thanks go to Dr. Maida Watson (FIU) for inviting me.  It was nice to be in warm, sunny Miami during the middle of the Illinois winter.  But most importantly, it was nice to be around a group of people who were engaged and excited about incorporating business content into their language teaching.

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