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Tips For The Summer Slide: A Connecticut Teacher Shares Five Ways To Retain Second Language Skills

The following blog post was written by Jennie Taranovich, Curriculum Coordinator and Spanish teacher at Bethel High School:

As a Spanish teacher for 11 years, I can’t tell you how many times I have heard the following statement from parents and friends: “I did study Spanish in high school, but I don’t remember a single thing,” or “I wish I had retained some of my high school Spanish, as it would be so helpful in my current job!” 

It is no different for my students. Every September, without fail, my students tell me they forgot everything they learned the previous year and can no longer speak even basic Spanish!  Even though summer break is just two months long, it is two months that they have not read, written or spoken Spanish.

I have always believed that learning a language is similar to playing a sport: In order to be at the top of your game, you need to practice on a daily basis.

I know firsthand how true that mindset is, as an equestrian competitor, in addition being a teacher. If I skip practice for even one week, I don’t feel as confident in my ability to ride.  And because the majority of my students experience summer slide, that results in my spending nearly three weeks reviewing what was taught the previous year. 

If students spent just a minimum of three hours a week on their Spanish during their summer break, they would arrive in September ready to pick up where we left off in June.

The good news is, with advanced technology and access to the global world at our fingertips, it is easier than ever to engage in their language of study. 

I have found the following tips work really well for my students and, to be quite honest, myself as well.  I learned Spanish as a second language and for that reason, I am always trying to improve my own language skills.  These tips would also work well for ELL (English Language Learners) students.  Don’t worry if money is an issue, as many of the tips are free and don’t require any travel.  These tips are fun, easy, and inexpensive and will keep your brain thinking in the target language all summer long. 

  • Change your cell phone to the target language. This will help you to learn new vocabulary and practice the language daily.
  • Create Pandora stations or other online music stations that play the target language. Listening to music is a great way to learn new words and improve listening skills. Sing along to songs to work on pronunciation and fluidity with the language.
  • Use online learning programs, such as Rosetta Stone. Online programs allow you to work at your level of understanding and reinforce the four skills of reading, writing, speaking and listening. And, because the programs are mobile, practice can be done wherever and whenever you want t! Aim to practice for 20 minutes, three to four times a week. 
  • Practice conversing in the target language with friends or others in the community. Gain confidence speaking the language by practicing with others. You can also seek out native speakers through online exchange websites, which you can find through a simple internet search, where you can connect virtually with people who are fluent in the language.  (Just make sure that an adult vets the websites and exchanges that you participate in for safety reasons.) 
  • Read horoscopes, news stories, children’s books or watch movies on Netflix in the target language. Build your vocabulary, but do so at your learning level. If you’re a beginner, read children’s stories, if you’re more advanced, try chapter books!  Don’t forget to try reading horoscopes or online newspapers in the target language either. 

So this summer, try using that technology for something other than playing video games, texting and social media posting! 

Use it to engage yourself in your second language. Avoid that “summer slide” and come back in September to your world language class feeling confident and ready to work. 

Your teachers will thank you for it!

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