Language Exposure

Alzar School | 04.02.15

I spent the year after I graduated high school living and studying in Italy – surrounded by, for the first time in my life, a language I had never been exposed to. The first times I was able to express my need to eat, introduce myself, or say good night to my host-family left me feeling accomplished, yet exhausted. After months, I felt the lightness and sense of accomplishment as I started to dream, joke, laugh, and live in a different .language. Having felt the reward of language acquisition, and having walked through the doors it had opened, I embarked upon the Spanish journey upon my return.

During my teaching fellowship in Fall 2014, and my first semester with the Alzar School, I had the opportunity to teach Spanish 4 – a class that challenged me, and allowed me to gain a greater understanding of the Spanish language and its complexity. Classes were spent wrapping our heads around the subjunctive (past, present, and future) – ways to discuss our hypothetical wants and needs:

“If I had been a superhero when I was a kid, I would have liked to have been invisible”

This semester has taken a different approach to language. Teaching Spanish 1, and I am remembering what it is like to be exposed to a language for the first time ever. When every word you see, hear, try to read, and try to speak looks a little like:

“romuh erahs ot dna ,sdeen ym dna flesym etalucitra ot ,em dnuora esoht dnatsrednu ot si tnaw i lla” – and you are trying, with all your might to make sense of it.

It reminds me of the common experience we have as humans, learning our first language. It is one that very few of us remember, but one I strive to emulate as I expose my students to Spanish – some for the very first time.


In order to accomplish my goal of “immersion”, and prepare students for the reality of immersion that will confront us in a week when stepping off the plane in Santiago, classes have ben conducted in as much Spanish as possible since day one. Using pictures to learn new vocabulary and acting my expectations out (sometimes with hilariously failed gestures and interpretive dance moves), has been a switch from the grammatically heavy Spanish 4 class, but one that takes me back to the beginning. So pure, so tangible, and so practical as we head south to engage with and build relationships with a culture and people who do not share our first language.

The beauty of language is this. Before you know it, the above foreign sentence becomes clear… almost as if you were just reading it backwards…