#HowIBoomalang is a series of interviews and guest posts with educators, sharing how and why they implement Boomalang conversations.
"Why Boomalang this semester? Don't skip the dessert!"
Class: Advanced Conversation
Why Boomalang this semester? Don’t skip the dessert!
Before I answer my question or explain what “don’t skip the dessert” means, I want to explain why there is never a dull moment in teaching language.
Unlike some disciplines, those of us who teach languages know that languages are constantly evolving. I make it a priority to stay up to date in both a cultural and linguistic sense. In order to be successful communicators, our students need to know this information too.
Staying up to date culturally and linguistically to ensure communication is effective is easier said than done. For example, when the technology boom came about a few years ago, texting via smart phones and messenger apps became both a common and popular way to communicate. I learned abbreviated forms of words specifically used in text messages. I figured out that in Spanish, “x” is used with common “p” words such as why/porque (xp) and please/por favor (xpa) and sorry/perdon (xp). Due to the influence of social media, the expression “to friend” had become a commonly used verb in Spanish, “amigar.” These changes to the ways people talk, write and express themselves may not make it into dictionaries and grammar guides right away, but their presence and use signal how languages are constantly updating themselves, with or without permission from grammarians, lexical experts and professors like myself.
Since new phrases and ways of communicating are always popping up, it is
important to be on the lookout for ways to incorporate new language into the classroom. For example, this summer I learned an expression in English that seems to be catching on, “Don’t skip the dessert.” It means that someone who has put forth energy and effort to complete a task deserves some sort of reward, though not necessarily a sugary treat. I first heard this expression in a yoga class, where the instructor explained that savasana or corpse pose, traditionally at the end of class, is the dessert. She insisted we should not skip savasana because we worked hard in class and deserved to reap the psychological and physiological rewards of that practice by relaxing in this specific pose.
This got me thinking about my students. What do my students get for their hard work in learning language?
Is it passing the class? Maybe for some of them, that is enough. Personally, I do not think that a passing grade is a suitable reward for learning the skill of language. What would be another type of dessert a student could enjoy after working to master new material? How about this: do you want to have a real-world conversation with someone who speaks the language the way everyday people speak it? A conversation that is not for a letter grade. A conversation that proves you really can put all the skills of language together to converse, and allows you to practice and speak with a “regular” speaker, someone who is not involved in their process of language learning.
Sadly, professors and teachers are not “regular” speakers of the language. We might hate to admit it, but no matter how hard we try, we are lexical and grammatical nerds and sometimes snobs! Can you blame us? We are teachers, so it really is not our fault. But don’t our students deserve a chance to talk to someone who is not us, not another student in the class, someone who is not going to judge them when they don’t’ properly use the correct verb tense or when they forget or mispronounce a few words here and there? I believe that type of conversation is the dessert. My students will not skip the dessert this academic year. They will use Boomalang as a reward for successful learning. Now I am finally ready to answer my own question: Why Boomalang?
I am psyched to try Boomalang with my students this fall because:
A) Students deserve the dessert: they should get more practice having meaningful conversations in Spanish with people who speak the language the way people speak it today in contemporary society, and who are not grading or judging them as they learn to speak the language and…
B) In any 21st century educational setting, all students need more practice with video-based technology that will inevitably be a part of their daily lives once they graduate and enter the workforce.
Boomalang also solves a practical problem that most language instructors have; there is not enough time to have one- on-one conversations with students to get them to a higher level of proficiency. Even ambitious educators who do have one-on-one conversations with students know that generally speaking, one of the weakest performance areas for students is live, face-to-face verbal communication in the target language. It is not that our teaching practices are horrible. Simply put, it is impossible to give students the amount of time they need to acquire real world, communicative skills in our traditional classroom settings.
When I learned about Boomalang, it was almost as if the sun broke free from the clouds! There was Boomalang, a website shining brilliant rays of light and possibilities on a new era of language learning, one where students could actually get practice speaking the language without me controlling all the details. Boomalang offers the best of both worlds: students practice their conversational skills (remember it is their dessert) and all I do is set some conversation parameters, review their conversation is complete, and give them some feedback if I choose.
Another added bonus is that Boomalang can meet the scheduling needs of all my students. They get to review profiles of native speakers who are available to chat with and then schedule a conversation. They converse in the comfort of a space that they choose, away from the eyes and ears of their instructor and peers. The flexibility of Boomalang is an added bonus since speaking in a typical classroom environment strike fears in even the most outgoing students.
To return briefly to the moment that I discovered Boomalang, I remember feeling that it truly emerged from the heavens as a gift from the Gods of language teaching. I see Boomalang as a wonderful addition to the way humans communicate and learn language, it is the dessert for both my students and myself! I think my students are are going to love using Boomalang and be hungry for more dessert in the spring.
Have a wonderful start to your academic year, and remember, “Don’t let your students skip the dessert!”
Dr. Jennifer Karash-Eastman is a Spanish professor in the Department of Modern Languages at St. Bonaventure University. Her academic interests include second language acquisition theory, literature and social justice activism. You can connect with Jennifer on Twitter: @jen_eastman
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