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This week we share with you a great strategy for learning a new language: reading! If you’ve ever tried learning a new language by reading novels for fun, you may have experienced the great benefits this form of studying has. After all, if we know it is helpful for our kids learning their native language, it makes sense that free reading in a new language is a good idea.
This week we are joined by Camilla Bates, a small-town Spanish teacher (as she describes herself). She grew up in Northern Minnesota and Michigan and is now settled in rural Western Colorado, where she and her husband are raising their two boys. She has taught Spanish for more than fifteen years, has written two books and set up a website to share ideas and resources with other language teachers.
In this episode we talk about:
Learning a new language by reading
1. How her interest in Spanish and eventually teaching it got started (slowly!). She started off taking Spanish classes herself in high school, never thinking she would stick with it. Something kept going, however, and by her third year she had discovered
2. The link between “free reading” and language learning. She learned about the important link between the two in conferences and now includes it in her classes. She wanted to give her students enjoyable things to read and wrote a four-part story with another teacher. It opened the world of writing to her and she has continued to write Spanish stories and has published two books so far, including one about a student trying to learn how to speak Spanish, which her students very much relate to!
3. While offering her students this “free reading” time to solidify the vocabulary and other things they are learning about the language, Camilla talks about the benefits of reading fiction. “Most studies have shown that we actually learn more from reading fiction than we do from reading non-fiction, which seems counter-intuitive, but….studies have shown!” While she does include non-fiction books in her classroom collection, a great deal of it is fiction.
4. Teaching high school, Camilla is dealing with many students who do not regularly read for themselves, which poses challenges. “By the time I have them in high school, I would say 75% of my students identify as not liking reading. So when they come into my room and they are reading…- not just reading, but reading in a second language- I want it to be as comfortable an experience as possible… I don’t require them to do anything at the end of it. They literally come in, they choose a book, sit down and read.” At the end of the semester, however, she asks them something that they have learned from reading and the answers she gets are “spectacular.”
5. Along with the “free reading” that she has her students do in every class period, Camilla also reads stories aloud to her students when teaching them new material, which helps students at every level for different reasons!
6. Camilla’s second book, Soy Carlos, was written because people always ask her how they can learn Spanish when they are not able to take a class. She always tells them to read in Spanish, but it is often difficult to find material at the right level, so she wrote a graphic novel aimed to help people learn Spanish on their own!
As a Spanish teacher, she is in a great postition to give us advice if we want to learn a second (or third or fourth, etc) language. She reminded us to start small- don’t immediately dive in and try to read Harry Potter. She gave us some great resources to get started, which we will link to below.
In “Learning a new language? Grab a novel!” we mention:
We are so grateful to Camilla for taking the time to talk with us! More information about her, her books, and her website can be found in the following places:
Smalltown Spanish Teacher’s website
Stephen Krashen’s theory of second language acquisition
Books we mentioned:
Lazarillo de Tormes by Anonymous
Las Cronicas de Narnia (series) by C.S. Lewis (English version pictured here)
La Tutora de Español by S. Camilla Bates
Los sobrevivientes by Bryan Carl Kandel
Soy Carlos by S. Camilla Bates
Dog Man (series) by Dav Pilkey
Hombre Perro (series) by Dav Pilkey
Don’t miss out on Episode 19: How We Read with Lucia and JR Ratliff