This is the only blog entry that will be in English.
In October of last year, I was invited to teach FS 313, a course in Spanish for business. My qualifications to teach the course were purely experiential, while I had no formal training in business, I had in fact run a successful business in Buenos Aires, helped establish a publishing company which, after nearly 30 years, still exists, and upon my return to the United States, had spend most of my professional life working with entrepreneurs in business ventures which often involved my knowledge of foreign languages.
I had recently been employed in a progressive grade school based upon the philosophies of Paolo Frere and Dewey. In this particular school, we did not give students grades, we did not test, and we did not assign homework. The constant challenge of the learning environment was to motivate through love of subject and the creation of the environment in which the learning of the subject would have its own rewards.
In previous work as an instructor, both with the Civil Air Patrol and my own Institute, I discovered that competition in the creation of task forces were actually more successful in terms of teaching and work output than the conventional grade and test system.
In the late 1960s, my father, Dr. Frank A. Cipriani wrote his dissertation on the effectiveness of programmed learning. His conclusion was that, while teacherless programmed learning may be somewhat effective for drills and reinforcement when motivation is high, it is not a substitute for classroom-based teaching. This is bad news for the textbook industry, and for computer-based instruction programs in foreign language, such as Rosetta Stone.
My father’s work concluded, and my own teaching experience has borne out, that the most important factor in acquiring new skills is motivation.
How do we provide motivation in a world where education is based upon the fear of testing and poor grades? Actually, fear is a powerful motivator. It allows us to standardize the learning experience, to provide textbooks, mechanized homework, and easy to follow rubrics which take the out guesswork and allow teachers to increase class sizes and provide objective measures to a mass audience. It sells teaching materials, and mitigates the possibility of poor teaching by setting measurable standards. No child may rise above, but few are left behind.
What is lost is the unquantifiable love of learning, the use of knowledge as a tool to navigate the imagination and new experiences. While the current model delivers a body of knowledge to the greatest number, it is more akin to teaching a humanist catechism than it is to developing inventive thought.
I could make the argument that inventive thought is critical to the learning process under any circumstance, but I will restrict my argument here to the teaching of business.
Any commercial-based endeavor requires a skill set which includes inventiveness, real-world problem-solving, competitiveness, planning and human management. All of these skills are subordinate to the ability to communicate effectively, and not just communicate anything, but specifically to motivate through communication. Managers must motivate the workforce. Salespeople must motivate the buyers. Buyers must motivate sellers to settle on a price point. Management must know when to communicate and when to keep silent. A class which hopes to successfully teach such skills should be hands-on, in the way that a Drivers Ed course is. Sure, learning to read maps is important, but it is only a small part of being able to navigate within a limitless number of environments. If a student successfully learns how to drive a car, eventually s/he will use the system of trial and error to avoid getting lost.
The interconnectivity of the world, the rise of fair trade, and the accessibility of the developing world markets allow the business student direct access to the global market. The advantage of a university campus is that it can be a laboratory for the marketplace, and beyond the University, in a region as diverse as the New York metropolitan area, students do not have to restrict themselves to role-playing and in classroom experience in order to acquire skills. Continuing with the “Driver’s Ed” analogy, the classroom is the parking lot in which many of us, as eager nervous teenagers, have learned to drive in safety. Beyond this, lie the great highways of the world at large. The access lane is the Internet
The purpose of the FS 313 (Spanish for Business) class was to provide a real-world laboratory for the promotion of TL (Target Language, in this case, Spanish) as a business tool. In planning this course, I was free to apply new methodology. Current technological advances Most Language for Specific Purpose classes are primarily language classes designed for the learner to express terms with which the student is already familiar, but in the TL. In these “conventional” cases, the language learner, because the the presumed proficiency in the Specific Purpose Topic, is given a glossary of terms and is essentially invited to translate these terms into TL with the correct grammar and appropriate cultural tweaks. The student is measured on adherence to a fixed set of criteria, such as on tests and essays, and perhaps performance on role-playing exercises. Linguistic adaptability is not a skill that is measured or taught by this approach. The assumption is that the environment itself is static and that the goal of language learning is to describe this environment, not change this environment.
The goal of this conventional approach is to promote the correct usage of the target language in controlled situations. Each learner comes away from a language class having been exposed to the same content as fellow students, and based upon how thoroughly the learner has absorbed this content, s/he is then able to go into the world at large and hope to find an opportunity to utilize this uniform vocabulary and grammar. Wherever the lexicon intersects with a language learners interests, the language is more likely to form part of the speaker’s permanent lexicon. In the case of Language for Specific Purpose, the specialization of the student increases the chances for such opportunities when contrasted to the general purpose language class.
Not coincidentally, the fixed-criteria approach to language learning is the one best suited for textbook marketing and programmed learning. The forces motivating the student, on a daily basis, are the unit test, homework grades, and the promise of improvement over the course of the semester. The students are all pointed in the same direction, toward the same set of vocabulary words and exercises, the same page numbers in the same books, and what they can “share” is the translated experience of their personal lives and their reaction to the texts, readings and references of the material provided.
In the case of my FS313 class, the aim was for students to navigate the Spanish-speaking business world as students with limited L2 proficiency. The key word here is “navigate”. The approach recognizes that in an interconnected, online world, artificial opportunities for expression such as role-playing, essays and exams can be substituted with real-world student-directed experiences, and teacher input and grading can be replaced with more spectacular metrics, like visits to TL blogs on Word Press, and in the case of Business Spanish, the generation of actual profits within the context of the Spanish-speaking world.
Language learning becomes more akin to learning how to drive. No one needs to study specific maps in order to learn how to drive a car, one learns by choosing roads, making wrong turns, and eventually even developing a driver’s personality- cautious, reckless, tailgater, road rager, based upon the relationship one has with the concept of driving, the individual vehicle, the presence of law enforcement and many other factors.
With this “hands-on approach” textbooks are not the most useful tool, and the unit test, homework grades and the promise of improvement take a back seat to the immediate motivator of winning (or not losing) the challenges, being rewarded (or not “fired”), making actual money and watching the metrics of the visits on Word Press. Although as an instructor I must design rules of a game skewed to favor communication in TL, the real world experiences offered are very different in terms of student motivation than artificial classroom-based experience.
In this environment, what happens to the instructor? What are the responsibilities of the instructor in the experience-based classroom? If exposure to a TL environment is the main tool of instruction, what must the instructor do, besides help to bring the student into the environment?
- The instructor must provide the language of the dialog.In this course, for instance, I provided the “herramientas” the tools necessary to succeed at the challenges. Students did not know how to organize themselves to complete the challenges, so I had to create lecture/workshops to help teach the tools. For instance, one of the first “tools” is the organigrama, designed to divide the team into a task force.
- The instructor must act as a referee in the competition, becoming the Donald Trump character on the Apprentice. in the classroom, this means monitoring the use of target language when teams are having strategic meetings.up
- The instructor must interface with the community at large to create interesting challenges which will allow the student not only to increase grammar lexicon proficiency, but also to add names to an individual’s contact list. One oft-ignored fact when comparing classroom learning to language learning abroad, is that the main difference is the new number of new people to which a traveler is exposed. These new acquaintances, all with a unique voice and personality, increase the ability to comprehend not just the spoken word, but the many culturally specific forms of unspoken communication.
- The instructor must also provide some reward for the winning team in each of the competitions. In fact, when I attempted to use better grades as a reward, the winning team complained, preferring a competitive edge in the next challenge to the promise of a better grade.
- While some fundamental lexicon and grammar can form a basis of a lesson, the opportunity for each student to navigate a unique environment necessitates a student be responsible for learning the new forms of grammar and lexicon to which s/he was exposed as a result of navigating. Instructor must devise some means by which the student will retain this knowledge. In my class, I experimented with allowing the students to create an individualized testing instrument, which works to some extent, and later I require the student to use the new vocabulary words at least five times throughout the course of the challenge. This turned out to be a daunting task administratively, and in the future, I would have each student copy and paste new blog entries to an individual portfolio as well as to this WordPress site. I think Google docs would be ideal for this purpose, especially since Google docs will do spellcheck in Spanish.
6. Instructor is responsible for giving the student the navigational skills necessary to be successful in a given environment. This means not only teaching the skill set of the particular area of study, in my case business, but also to give the student the linguistic tools that will facilitate the language learning experience. These can include the teaching of use of mnemonic devices, of language learning journals, of thinking techniques, and of metalinguistic awareness.
Why does anyone learn another language? Primarily, the motivation is to move toward seamless navigation and self-expression in the environment in which TL is spoken. The navigation of the environment, rather than the acquisition of TL itself is the goal. Therefore, while TL is critical for success in an environment in which it is the means of communication, other “real world” communication factors, such as empathy, extroversion, cultural sensitivity and flexibility are as important as language acquisition itself.
In designing the fs313 course, I attempted to create an environment in which TL, even improperly spoken, would provide a competitive advantage to the business students on an actual sliver of the world stage. The aim was to design a course which was not simply a means to an end (Learning Spanish to do business) but an end unto itself (actually doing business in the Spanish-speaking world).
Fortunately, Donald Trump had already laid some of the groundwork for my approach. In his program, The Apprentice, a well-designed system of competition and reward motivated competitors to navigate through a series of challenges in order to gain rewards and avoid being fired. The model had a Spanish Language counterpart, El Aprendiz where billionaire Luis Bassat, widely considered one of the most influential Spanish advertising executive in the world (named in 2000 as the Most Influential Spanish Advertising Executive of the Twentieth Century).
I designed four challenges for the class, with varying levels of success. I divided the class of fifteen into three groups of five, based upon separate competitive advantages. One group had all the native speakers, another group had an artist, and the third group had the business and communication majors. My purpose for creating the intentional imbalance was twofold: First, I wanted the teams to have very different senses of identity, and I didn’t want each team to rely upon the native speakers to communicate.
The challenges utilized the campus and the blogosphere as the environment in which the challenges would be played out. The first activities involved team-building, creating an “organigrama” based upon division of labor, roles and responsibilities.
Logistics- The flow of resources between point A and point B
Operations- the means by which a raw material (or money) is turned into a product, including the movement of consumers in an event.
1. Legal- Conformity to the rules (especially campus rules)
2. Finance and Accounting- Bean-counting
3. Marketing- identifying a target audience and building a strategy for reaching that target audience.
4. Publicity- The intentional public image of the company.
5. Communication- The internal dialog of the company
6. Correspondence- external dialog
7. Director- Leadership.
The tasks were created so that the students could experience actually turning a profit, creating a market, selling a service, good and planning an event.
Besides the team challenges, the class required two additional individual challenges: The Stock Market Game, and a job search.
One of the most important differences is the ability to intuit approaches to code-switching, learning vocabulary items not merely via translation but by the naming of something which is culturally unique, and to which the language learner may not have in the lexicon of L1. The specific language of the course, with its Sala de Juntas and Evaluacion de desempeño sought to introduce lexicon experientially, rather than in the usual manner of providing a glossary and translating terms. Ultimately, the goal was for non-business students not to have the new terminology in English, thus creating a need, even among students outside the classroom, to use TL.
Interestingly, This is very much how the class “played out”, especially with the non-native speakers. My intuition was that the group of five students in which 4/5 were native speakers, would be the ones most likely to succeed, given their huge advantage. However, among native speakers who are children of immigrants where Spanish is the language of the home but English is the language of the “street” the cultural context of language selection is radically changed. Students, though fluent are not comfortable speaking Spanish in a school environment which they have been successfully navigating in English since childhood. I had to constantly remind the native speakers not to speak English, while those students who had little cultural context had less difficulty trusting Spanish as the language of the competition. Non-native speakers who were non-business majors were likely, even when speaking English to use Spanish terms to describe unfamiliar concepts.
The analysis of this course can be broken into five categories:
1. The effect of the course on student learning of TL
2. The effect of the course on student becoming capable of navigating and adapting to a business environment
3. The effectiveness of the specific methodology of the course
4. The effectiveness of the instructor (me) himself.
5. The effectiveness of the technology applied to the course.
In terms of TL, outcome-based standards are a poor means of measuring the long-term impact of learning. I mean, we can teach, test and measure outcomes forever, but in the end, learning needs to demonstrate some result, some ultimate reason, beyond requirements and degress, for actually having studied a course.
The course was designed to be not a means by which to achieve an end, but the end itself. In other words, many people learn a language in order to do something, ie. travel, get a good job, conduct business, etc. A course is rarely the “end product”. An exception to this is an art course, for instance, where the work produced in the studio actually becomes part of the artist’s body of work. My philosophy is that some new student-generated invention must come into the universe as a result of having sat in a classroom, and this product should contribute to the overall body of human knowledge. The student is not a passive consumer of knowledge, but rather an observer of her own processes and the primary contributor to the individualized methodology which best suits her learning style. by the end of the course, if the student never utters another word of Spanish, the experiential application of the language to this particular course would have justified all previous study.
The student would have something material to show for the work in this course, something beyond a letter on a piece of paper. Having said this, the generation of these language-based inventions incentivizes the student to perfect his Spanish so that the quality of the project improves.
For instance, a well-written WordPress page in Spanish will receive more visits from readers around the world than those which may be unintelligible. If the goal of language of communication, the in game of seeing the number of readers increase, to watch this been courted of the globe fill with followers of the site, and then to be able to continue to write this extended audience after the class is over is the more intrinsic benefit than any one grade in any given course could afford.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that Spanish was more widely used in this task-based system. However, the goal and purpose of this course was not collect data on the student, nor to rely on outcomes based analysis to prove the effectiveness of such programs. In fact, measuring a class that way is contradictory. Students were challenged to compete in Spanish, and the use of the target language itself was a necessary corollary to the accomplishment of those goals. This is especially appropriate the teaching of foreign languages, because except in the foreign language classroom, target language learning and use it never an end in itself, but rather a tool by which other goals can be more easily achieved.
Therefore, when critics of this course ask, “was this method more effective than others?” I would use standards such as profits generated, visitors to the blog, and other anecdotal evidence outside the classroom to judge whether or not a student learned to navigate competently in the TL environment. Furthermore, I stubbornly refuse to drink the Kool-Aid of outcome based assessment at the effective means of measuring classroom accomplishments.
2. In terms of a student being able to negotiate a business environment in TL, future challenges could do more to connect our students to boardrooms across the planet. We were limited to the West Long branch/Asbury Park area and to the Internet to effectively create these challenges. Language labs and use of media were instrumental in role-playing and preparing the student real-world experiences, such as appearing on the University radio station, or advertising movies to other Spanish classes. In the future, I hope to expand the opportunities for our students to do some effective import/export work, especially in the area of fair trade.
3. The course was confusing because the methodology was new and constantly shifting. No less than three different methods of testing were given, and in the end, happening did not prove to be the most effective means by which to inspire a student to learn. Requiring students to use new vocabulary at least three times per blog was a way more effective and practical method of study that had real world value. The required blogs were excellent examples of writing, and unlike tests, allowed a student to apply the new information as creatively as she chose to.
4. Add an instructor, I have a tendency to often confuse my students with tangents and annoying propensity to switch goals in the middle of a lesson. I attempted to mitigate these tendencies by carefully scripting the Friday “herramienta” lectures which were designed to introduce new business skill sets. These lectures would have benefited from a more holistic “ronda” approach, the same one I use in the 100 and 200 level courses. That is to say, I never expect that a student will be able to pay attention to a lecture for more than 15 min. after which time active listening tends to disappear. All these lectures appeared on Word Press, so perhaps the lectures themselves were overkill. The better method, the “ronda” would involve giving each individual ten minute writing, reading, listening, speaking and integrated tasks stations. Every ten minutes, students would physically move to a new station to complete the challenge there. The concept of arranging the vocabulary into business tools was effective because it did introduce topics in TL, and required students to learn new concepts in TL, without referring to NL translations. In fact, many terms were unfamiliar to me in English. The “analisis FODA”, according to one business student, is called a SWOT analysis in English, but most students had no idea that this was the case.
5. Word Press was instrumental in creating a dynamic text book, and I included a “how to” section on this website which I plan to incorporate into all future Word Press teaching documents. From this site, students could post videos, writing, blog and comment on other students’ work. Videotaping of Board Room meetings was spotty, and a better system is required. The problem was converting documents to formats that could be posted on YouTube. The University issues recordings as DVD’s, and the fact that one has to wait for the videos, then put them in the appropriate format before inserting the annotations prevents giving students immediate feedback. In the future, simple recording using student telephones might work better, or perhaps, the instructor will invest in a telephone capable of easily videorecording the information.
The format used on this site is designed and maintained on a laptop, but most students read in on cellphone. The format needs to reflect the de facto student media, and perhaps an audio version of the information presented here needs to be inserted into the website. This could be the task of the students of “La Ronda” reading and recording the information and placing it on a Sound Cloud (or Google Play) account, then posted to the website. Dragon speak software was used to create most of the lectures, both in English and in Spanish, in fact, I am currently dictating the text of this post in Dragon speak. This is especially useful in Spanish, because my laptop does not have easily accessible accent and inverted sentence initial punctuation. The extra advantage of Dragon speak Spanish is that it allows the student an objective measure of her pronunciation. Dragon speak writes what it hears. if a student is not doing a good job pronouncing his words, the output will be garbled.
Finally, mechanical translation programs such as Google translate also have their place in this class. The most effective way to use Google translate is as a language checker, students write a sentence in TL and check to see if the English translation matches their intention. I often use Google translate in this way to teach myself new languages.
Creating a class that was competitive in nature and that focused on creating real world output that would be judged outside the classroom was an effective method of teaching, though I leave it to others to test that efficiency. Objectively, the class generated a profit using the Spanish-language, created blogs that were read by more than 2000 people in over 65 countries, generated word counts in the TL of over 20,000 words per student, created real business opportunities in translation, and laid the foundation for future Spanish business courses to take advantage of the business plans, blogs and contacts created by this group of fifteen students.