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  • OKIE IN EXILE: Una Poca de Gracia

  • I am getting close to the end of my Rosetta Stone Latin American Spanish, and I am going to miss it when it ends. It has been a daily habit, almost an addiction.

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  • I am getting close to the end of my Rosetta Stone Latin American Spanish, and I am going to miss it when it ends. It has been a daily habit, almost an addiction.
    Near the end, I wouldn’t be comfortable saying that I can speak Spanish. There is work to be done. It’s something that I’ve experienced in German and in Russian before this. You figure out what you are going to say. You rehearse it. You run it through your head again just to make sure. Then you say it. You say it perfectly. They understand you. They smile at your effort.
    Then they talk back.
    Figuring out what they say when they talk back is the thing.
    I’ve spent a sizeable fraction of my time since early July listening to Spanish. I’ve progressed from “Well, I can tell it’s people and that they are talking” to being able to pick out words. There is a game I play called Buzz Bingo. They lay out words on a rectangular grid and you are supposed to click on them as you hear them in a story.
    It ain’t as easy as it looks.
    What have I learned? Well, I’ve learned a lot of Spanish, and I’ve learned that you can learn a lot of Spanish without being able to speak it.
    But I’ve also learned a bit about the role of a teacher.
    The teacher is a guide. Think of him as being Daniel Boone or Jim Bridger. First he goes over the mountain himself, but then when he’s taking the settlers over, he picks places along the way where they can camp. He finds gentler paths that the ones he used and eliminates the blind alleys.
    This was done by the designers of the software. Rosetta Stone is a marvel of design and planning. If you are going to do this right, you are going to have to spend some money. Some money has been spent here folks. The photographs cost, the recordings cost, and the computer programmers cost. I know just enough about how this stuff is done to say “Wow!”
    There is a but a-comin’ and those of you who know me knew it was comin’.
    Teaching and learning are human activities. Packages like this are tools. It’s good; I’ve learned a lot of Spanish. I would’ve learned more if I’d had a human teacher. As it was, I had to go upstairs in Grubbs Hall to bother La Maestra once or twice to solve a mystery or two.
    But a real human teacher is more than someone who will answer questions.
    A teacher will hold you accountable. While a computer is good at not letting you get away with anything, a teacher will have expectations of you. A good teacher will make you want to be better. You will learn because you like them; you will learn because you respect them; and sometimes you will learn because you hate them. I know the last for a fact.
    Page 2 of 2 - A good teacher will push you hard, but a good teacher will also show you a little bit of grace, una poco de gracia. As good as these learning programs can be, they are soulless. They have no grace.
    All of that said, sometimes they are the only option as this was for me. I simply couldn’t fit a class into my schedule. So, while I haven’t learned enough to be fluent or understand, I can ask “Donde es alguien que habla ingles?” (Where is someone who speaks English?) And maybe they will take me there.
    Bobby Winters, a native of Harden City, Oklahoma, is Assistant Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and Professor of Mathematics at Pittsburg State University. He blogs at redneckmath.blogspot.com and okieinexile.blogspot.com. You may contact him at okieinexile@gmail.com.

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