Friday, October 31, 2014

Spanish Community Service Learning, Civic Engagement, Transcultural Competence and Technology

by Ann Abbott

In two weeks I will visit the University of South Florida in Tampa for their campus' Service Learning Day. I had a wonderful conversation with Lance Arney and Dr. Soria Colomer about what they and their colleagues would like to hear about and discuss. It became clear very quickly that people want to know more about how to help students engage with people of different cultural backgrounds in effective ways. And we are not just talking about national cultures; students need to be supported as the encounter many kinds of difference in their community service learning work so that they can understand, learn and grow.

Lance put together the following to send to faculty, and I wanted to share it because I think it is very well articulated and shows us what faculty really want to learn, what barriers they feel they need to overcome in order to do service learning and do it well.

Keynote speech: “Don’t Just Teach! Engage Students in Communities”: Engaging Students in Civic Action through Service-Learning in Culturally Diverse Communities

Student success is more than academic achievement. It is helping our students become community engaged global citizens. How do we accomplish this? One way is through the “high-impact practice” of service-learning, which, through experiential learning in real world contexts, increases the likelihood that students will experience diversity; through critical reflection, compels students to analyze their own relationships to other people and the world; and, through civic action, cultivates in students a more committed sense of social responsibility and ethical sense of personal agency.

To discuss concrete ways to produce these “high impacts” in practice, we invited as our Service-Learning Day keynote speaker Dr. Ann Abbott, an award-winning Spanish language educator who regularly publishes about service-learning and the connections among language, cultures, professional contexts, and course content. Dr. Abbott will share innovative approaches to service-learning that she uses to help her students gain intercultural competence, acquire strategies for working with cultural differences, and understand the subtleties of cultural conflicts. Additionally, Dr. Abbott will explain the importance and benefits of moving students beyond volunteerism to civic activism through course-based service-learning.

Afternoon “workshop”: “Students, Turn On Your Cell Phones and Open Facebook”: Using New Media and Technology to Enhance Service-Learning: An Engaged Conversation with Ann Abbott, Ph.D.

Students love using technology and social media. Ever wonder how to take advantage of that to enhance your students’ community engaged learning? Then join us for a discussion with Dr. Ann Abbott, who will facilitate an engaged conversation about incorporating new media into service-learning, as well as using technology to get students into the community and the community into the classroom.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Student Spotlight: Marlee Stein

by Ann Abbott

Like many students, Marlee Stein took advantage of many opportunities available to Spanish students, perhaps not sure how they would all add up or where they would lead. Marlee did the following:

  • Studied abroad in Granada, Spain.
  • Took the community service learning courses ("Spanish in the Community" and "Spanish and Entrepreneurship").
  • She did James Scholar Honors projects in her Spanish courses. In my classes, one semester she blogged (on this blog) and another semester she worked on a virtual intercambio site-- got it up and running.
  • She applied to teach English in Spain through the Cultural Ambassadors: North American Language and Culture Assistants in Spain program. She was accepted, and she extended her stay into a second year.
Along the way, she figured out for herself how all of those experiences added up, where she wanted them to lead her. Here's a message Marlee recently sent me.

I wanted to tell you that I was accepted into the graduate program at northwestern "higher education & policy."  This is actually my dream program and am so excited to start and pursue a career as a study abroad advisor as well as get involved with the university and local community (something I learned from your classes!).  I wanted to thank you again for writing me a recommendation because your kind words I'm sure played a large role in my acceptance. It means a lot to me that you took the time to write a recommendation on my behalf as well as opening my mind to the many applications of language and culture. Thanks for inspiring me to take initiative and offering a wide range of opportunities in your classes because when interviewing for the program I mentioned my Intercambio website and they were impressed. After a lot of thinking I did decide to defer acceptance until June of 2015 and teach an additional school year in Spain. The NW advisor and I both thought that an additional year living, working, networking, and improving my Spanish will be extremely beneficial to a career in higher education and as a study abroad advisor. This summer I completed the entire camino de santiago-Frances in 33 days (over 800kilometers). After all my years of Spanish class and studying about the culture and history of the camino de santiago I was able to experience it first hand. 

In Marlee's case, her path was both metaphorical and literal (el Camino de Santiago). And it's led her to an understanding of the path she wants to follow in the future. But she had to walk it to arrive at that point, at that understanding. So be patient. Take lots of opportunities. Reflect often.

What steps are you taking while you're in college? Are you doing all that you can with your Spanish program? Are you patient enough to follow a path without always knowing exactly where it will lead you? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Engaged Teaching Leads to Career Opportunities for Students

by Ann Abbott

I believe that...

  • ...universities are places of learning. That comes first. They are not vocational schools. And they are not businesses in and of themselves.
  • ...learning should be broad. Yes, there should be a foreign language learning requirement for everyone. Yes, all students should have to take a course on non-Western cultures. Yes, math and science are for everyone--even though I thought I was going to flunk Chem 101 my freshman year.
  • ...learning should take place inside and outside the classroom. Going to a foreign film festival is part of your university learning experience. Visiting a campus art museum, attending a student-produced play going to a concert are all learning experiences. When you're a student in a place where learning is the central mission, you don't stop learning when you leave your class.
  • ...encountering "difference" is one of the most important things students should do. It's so important, that students should seek it out. Invite it. Embrace it. Learn from it. In some ways, I learned more from my friendship with a fellow student from Kenya than from many of my courses. I am definitely a different person because of that friendship. And while I didn't understand everything she tried to teach me back then, because we had many, many conversations, her ideas stuck with me. They came back to me much later, when I needed them. She planted seeds that only blossomed later.
I say all of this because it sometimes seems that universities are now all about job preparation. Return on investment. Career fairs. Internships. Fast tracks. 

Those are wonderful things! But the learning is first. First and last. Always the learning.

That's why I do engaged teaching. Because I want students to learn from it in ways that traditional classrooms just don't provide. I want them to encounter linguistic and cultural difference by design, not by chance. And I want them to reflect upon those encounters as part of their academic learning. Where I can support them and challenge them.

But when learning and career opportunities align, that's a wonderful thing. 

Here are two emails I received yesterday from former students. Notice how engaged teaching resonates long after the final exam has been turned in. (Kind of like my conversations with my Kenyan friend.)

Medical School

I hope everything is going well for you this year.  I wanted to thank you again for writing several letters of recommendation for me over the past couple of years.  I recently received notice that I am accepted into Midwestern University Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine.  I am still waiting to hear from some other schools, but I will be attending medical school in the fall.

Thanks again for all your support and helping open my eyes to the opportunities at Frances Nelson.  It's practically all I talked about in the interview!


Seeing you on the quad today reminded me about something. I wanted to email you earlier this semester but I forgot. This year I have a virtual internship with the US Embassy in Mexico through the Virtual StudentForeign Service. I'm working with their social media team and their Facebookand Twitter pages to analyze their posts. I used my experience in your SPAN 202 class when I was applying and that is definitely the reason I got the internship. Just wanted to say thanks and I'm glad I took that class!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Florencia Henshaw: Building Accountability into the Task-Based Classroom

by Ann Abbott

Ever had a colleague whose work you admire, whose skills complement yours, and yet your work overlaps and--let's be honest--she so pushes you, too?

I think that's a rare combination. 

That colleague, for me, is Florencia Henshaw.

So when I began to think about my social entrepreneurship for next semester and how I wanted to do a few things differently, it finally dawned on me to ask her for help.

Here is our email conversation:

My question

Dear Florencia,
Una pregunta: since you are teaching [the methods course] in an active way, not just sitting around discussing the readings, how do you know if students are doing the readings or not? I'm trying to think of better ways to build in accountability to my entrepreneurship course for next semester and thought you might have some insights.

Florencia's answer

Hi Ann,

I usually do so in the form of:

a) creating questions/activities based on sections of the readings for their classmates to answer (e.g., "each person gets 1 question about one part of the reading; they need to come up with one more question related to that aspect and then lead the discussion in groups for 5 minutes") 

b) activities I create that make them apply what they have read (e.g., "critically evaluate this activity/textbook in light of the suggestions indicated in this week's reading", "watch this video and indicate how the views expressed in it reflect or not the ideas outlined in today's reading"; "identify what type of corrective feedback this is")

c) questions that go beyond basic comprehension (e.g., "create a dialog between two of the linguist mentioned in the reading, taking into account what each of them believes about language learning"; or responding to misconceptions based on what they now know after doing the reading.)

d) React to what the reading proposes (e.g., pros/cons, things they are not convinced about yet)

e) Quick writes ("Could the suggestions Brandl proposes for teaching vocabulary also apply to the teaching of grammar?" - they wrote for 10 minutes at the beginning of class, I collected them all, we continued with class; then at the end of class, they re-read what they wrote to see if their thoughts had changed after our class discussion)

In all of these cases, I don't review the content of the reading unless I notice some misunderstandings or areas that were not too clear as they work on the activities above. So far, it's working great!  It is never meant to be a "pop quiz" or anything like that. They know they can re-read sections or access their notes. What I do see that I had never seen before in a grad course is that many of them are coming with their own notes and summaries about the readings. I think it's because they know they will need to access the information quickly to do the activities. It might also be that since we have a quiz every 3 weeks, they feel they need to be more organized and keep up with the material more than in other courses. In the vast majority of grad classes, there is only a midterm (if that), and in a few cases there is a final exam, but there is very little in terms of being accountable for the readings throughout the course. Maybe that's just to encourage more learner autonomy: after all, in the real world, you will read whatever and whenever you want... I don't know!

I hope this helps! If you want to talk more about it or see some more specific examples, let me know.


Could you incorporate Florencia's suggestions in your courses? What do you do to build accountability into your courses? How do your colleagues inspire and, yes, even push you?

My Syllabi: Business Spanish, Spanish & Entrepreneurship and Spanish in the Community

by Ann Abbott

Sometimes I am very slow to respond to simple requests. When Carolina Egúsquiza (@cegusquiza) let me know that the links on my blog to my course syllabi didn't work, that seemed like an easy thing to fix. But I just fixed it today.

So here are my course syllabi and calendars. While I'm always tweaking the courses, these documents at the main elements of the course. 

You'll also find the links on the left-hand side bar.

Would you like to share your syllabi, too? I'd love to see them and learn from them. Just add a link in the comments below.

"Spanish in the Community" a community service learning course with relevant languages for specific purposes content

"Spanish & Entrepreneurship: Languages, Cultures & Communities," a community service learning course that focuses on social entrepreneurship within specific languistic and cultural communities

"Business Spanish," a combination of traditional business language studies and engagement projects

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)

To see more stories about the personal and career paths our former Spanish students have followed, go to the navigation bar on the right hand side of this blog and scroll to the ¨search¨ bar. Enter the word ¨Student Spotlight¨ and browse the results. You will see a lot of variety, and they´re all inspiring.

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.