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Jill Robbins, Chair 150 W 21st Street, Stop B3700, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-4936

Objectives, Methods & Strategies

PROGRAMMATIC OBJECTIVES

The Language Program of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at The University of Texas-Austin focuses on the development of three types of competencies:

  1. Linguistic competence: knowledge of Spanish/Portuguese phonetics/phonology, lexicon, syntax, discourse, etc.
  2. Communication competence: communicative abilities in Spanish/Portuguese such as pragmatic uses of language, cultural background and perspectives.
  3. Conceptual competence: critical-thinking abilities developed through the analysis of language as a conceptual, symbolic system.

TEACHING & LEARNING METHODS

Learner-based approach

All of the courses in our Language Program are highly student centered, with the instructors serving primarily as facilitators.  Students spend the majority of in-class time working together on activities and assessments, including in-class debates, analysis of texts, writing tasks, and peer editing.

Inductive learning

In our program, students are led through a "guided inductive approach" (discovery approach) in which they must analyze selected samples of language in order to discover patterns of use and to develop hypotheses (rules of thumb) about the target language.

Emphasis on critical thinking

Our curriculum has been designed to promote critical thinking.  In addition to analyzing authentic data, students are required to explain errors, provide justifications for their own choices, complete self-assessments, and compare features of native and non-native speech.  In our courses, simply recalling vocabulary and grammar practiced in the classroom is not sufficient, as students are also expected to extrapolate to new and unfamiliar linguistic forms, structures and situations.

Socio-cultural analysis of language

In our program, students gain awareness of various social factors that affect language use.  For example, students are exposed to language variation related to socio-economic class, communication purpose (e.g. arguing, chatting), setting (e.g. school, home), mode of communication (e.g. oral, written), as well as dialectal variation.  This approach helps students to communicate in sociolinguistically appropriate ways with speakers of the target language.  Finally, our program helps students to develop an understanding of the target language cultures, and to adapt, expand, and modify their own frame of cultural reference (i.e. understanding oneself).

STRATEGIES FOR STUDENTS OF SPANISH & PORTUGUESE

(From Teaching Manual - Impresiones, 2004)

1. Be patient. Learning another language takes time. There are no shortcuts. At times you will believe you have not made any progress at all, and then, all of sudden, everything starts to fall into place. Remember: be patient, and enjoy those eureka moments when they come.

2. Space your study. Learning a second language does not happen overnight. A second language is learned little by little. As a rule of thumb, always come to class, do your homework on time (as scheduled) and study in 30 to 60 minute sessions, but frequently, twice a day or more if possible. Whatever schedule you choose, don't cram.

3. Don't try to be a perfectionist. Remember that learning a second language is like studying math and physics and do an engineering project at the same time. Not only are you studying the basics of the structure of the language and its sociolinguistic functions, but also you are "doing things" with Spanish-Portuguese too. Don't be too hard on yourself. Make sure you go back to the opening pages of the chapter after you finish it and see how much progress you are really making.

4. Come to class and be an active student. Some days you will feel that you are not prepared and will not be able to make the most out of class (or you simply don't want to be embarrassed for not having prepared homework). Other days you will believe that the topic for that class is not interesting or not relevant to you. Overcome those feelings and come to class. Even when you feel you are not learning much, you REALLY ARE MAKING PROGRESS. Remember that those eureka moments need some incubation time before they happen.

5. Study with someone else. Whether your partner knows more or less than you do, you can always learn something from working with your classmate. If you know less, you can always ask your fellow student questions and get useful guidance from him/her. On the other hand, if you know more than s/he does, simply answering your classmates' questions and helping him/her will be a challenging task that will teach YOU more than you think.

6. Trust your instructor and the textbook materials. Follow your own instincts as far as study strategies that work well for you are concerned. But make sure you also learn to trust your instructor and the rationale behind the textbook materials. Your instructor and the people who design learning materials have a lot of experience about what works and what does not for most students. Remember that learning a second language may require a different learning process than the one you use for other school subjects. Give it a try!

7. Have fun while you learn Spanish-Portuguese. Learning a second language is fun. If you worry excessively about how far along you are in your language learning process you may forget that learning a second language can be fun too. After all, in what other class do you get to socialize with others and talk about what you like to do, what your plans are for the weekend, etc. Don't forget to enjoy the ride.

8. Learn to deal with ambiguity. Even though we tend to believe there is a one-to-one correspondence of vocabulary and structure in English and Spanish-Portuguese, the truth is, as you will find out, things are not so clear-cut. For instance, each word will have a specific connotation given by cultural relative interpretations. If you learn to deal with ambiguities you will be much more successful.

9. Guessing new vocabulary. Learn to guess the meaning of new words in context. You may not have a clear idea of what the word means but an approximation will do. This process is not unlike what you do in your first language when you're reading a novel or a technical document: you don't necessarily go to the dictionary each time you come across a word that you don't exactly know, you infer the meaning from context and keep reading. Learn to do the same in Spanish and Portuguese.

10. Learn new vocabulary in context. Try to learn new words in the context or groups that are semantically associated to form better and more connections among groups of words.

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