March 9, 2009

March 9, 2009


Dear LoMA Family,


I hope everyone had a good winter break. For my vacation, I went back to school to study my least favorite subject-Spanish. As I sat through hours of grammar and vocabulary lessons, completed homework and wrote essays, I was reminded how tough it is to be a student. In particular, I learned three important things about learning:


  • You never know what is going to be important. When I took Spanish in my monolingual, suburban hometown, I always argued with my teacher that I would never need to know Spanish. I had never imagined that I would someday need to speak to Spanish speaking in-laws and the parents of my students. While in high school I never thought I would need most of what I was learning. I was so wrong and my life would have been so much easier if I had learned how to write well, compute and understand science the first time around.
  • One on one help is essential. Given how little time I had, I needed the most intense instruction I could get in Spanish; so I went to Mexico to study where I was able to afford one on one classes. I did the same thing in college when I would spend more time in professors’ offices for tutoring than in their classrooms. Classroom instruction is essential, but when I am having trouble, I know I need to sit down with someone who can see just where I have difficulties and correct my mistakes. This is why tutoring is such a critical part of LoMA’s program. In addition to seeing teachers after school, we now offer tutoring in room 336 during lunch.
  • Homework practice is essential. While the one on one instruction taught me new vocabulary and grammatical rules, I never would have remembered any of it if I did not complete my homework every night. The only way we ever remember anything is through repetition. Not only did I write essays and conjugate verbs at night, but I also reread my notes repeatedly and showed up the next day with questions for my teachers. To practice more, I read (or tried to read) the local newspaper every day and would talk in Spanish to the people I met. In the same way, high school students will never truly succeed in remembering anything new based on class time. Through repetition (as boring as it may be), they need to practice new skills and use new terms outside of class if they are going to have any chance of memorizing them.
  • Have clear goals. As the language school did not have grades, I set a clear goal for myself of being able to read the Spanish newspaper and talk to my mother-in-law on the phone by the end of the week. In some classes, I would read the paper together with my teacher, and in other classes I would role-play discussions with my mother in law where I could say more than “Yo estoy bien, y usted.”  In the same way, LoMA students have been working on improving their goal setting. Getting an 85 in English is a pretty good goal, but much more specific, clear and useful goal would be a to use topic sentences and concluding sentences well in every essay.


The biggest surprise for me was how frustrating I found my return to school. I got my homework wrong, forgot vocabulary words and could not figure out when to use certain verb tenses. School can be hard, but I know how important it is for me to learn Spanish so I will go back again and keep on working on it so that I can tell the parents of my students “Usted tiene un hijo que tiene mucha consideracion por su escuela y trabaja mucho” with a perfect accent.


Sigue los estudios,



John Wenk