There’s nothing like study abroad for learning a language and culture.
However, in the 21st century, “study abroad” has taken on a whole new meaning.
In the old days (ahem, those of “low tech”), studying abroad meant getting permission from mom and dad, booking a plane ticket, packing just the right stuff and memorizing enough key phrases to get by. It also meant a lot of money for travel and tuition, housing and meals.
But not all students have these resources. And what if your school doesn’t offer a study abroad program?
Good news: Today, there are many ways you can provide your students with an immersive experience similar to study abroad including finding an exchange partner, changing your computer settings and making use of FluentU’s online program.
FluentU takes authentic videos videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
And, best of all, this experience as provided by resources like FluentU can be done from the ol’ classroom itself.
But these days we also have virtual reality, which means that it’s easy to arrange for students to visit the Spain’s Alhambra, Mexico’s Palacio Nacional, Argentina’s Iguazú Falls and Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands without even boarding a plane or sending their parents into debt.
Nowadays, students can do virtual study abroad! With just a few points and clicks, students can “visit” Spain and Latin America through authentic, virtual tours online.
Why should virtual trips be integrated into the Spanish classroom?
Must you ask? With VR (virtual reality), students can take part in new experiences and “return” from their online study time feeling as though they had really “traveled” to a certain place.
And have you checked out some of these sites? They often integrate visuals and a variety of other sensory experiences such as sound or music, which students find all the more engaging.
The sites also motivate students to explore things that interest them (really, there are virtual trips and tours for just about any place, so students are bound to locate a place they would like to experience).
Plus, the immersive experience encourages them to “click around” and discover new things in the process. Students get excited about virtual trips and tours and are inspired to share them with others. They can also learn about the history and culture of a given place by becoming a virtual traveler.
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How can this be integrated into the Spanish classroom?
If you want your students to participate in a virtual study abroad, you need to have them “do something” with it. After all, you can’t just have them pointing and clicking without giving them a reason to do so!
So, how can you integrate grammar and vocabulary into all this?
Here are some ideas. First of all, the virtual tours are really great for group work. Try putting students in small groups of three to four students each and assigning them a certain Spanish-speaking country or a specific place to visit within a certain country.
After they are done with their virtual visit, have them talk to another group about where they went or what they saw. This is a great way to have them practice using the preterite and the imperfect together.
You can also have students visit a certain location and then make a class presentation on the place they visited. You might want to assign them a certain grammatical point to focus on such as ser and estar, travel phrases or regional vocabulary. Audience members can then vote on the places they wish to travel based on these presentations.
For more advanced students, you might have them pretend they really will be traveling in a few months to a certain region or seeing some attractions. After exploring these places virtually, students should then use future tense to discuss what they will do there, where they will go and what they will see.
More advanced students can also take a virtual trip or tour and then give their opinion about what they saw there using the subjunctive mood.
10 Authentic Spanish Resources for Virtual Tours and Visits
Not sure where to find these virtual trips, visits and so on? Never fear! These virtual tours of major travel destinations are all provided by the home country of each destination—authentic resources taken straight from the source.
1. Virtual Argentina
This site allows visitors to explore Argentina’s historical buildings and museums. Among these are the Casa Rosada, Presidencia de la Nación, El Museo de Arqueología de Alta Montaña (MAAM) and the Museo de Plata. In most cases, students have the option of seeing still images or in taking a virtual tour.
The virtual tour option is great because it comes with spoken audio! By using the arrow keys, students can virtually “walk” in and out of buildings and proceed through the different buildings as if they were really there. Best of all, the site offers panoramic views of the historic buildings. They can even pan up and see the ceiling! (Okay, not that interesting, but still really neat and authentic!)
2. Honduras Maya Inn Hotel
Another 365-degree tour, the Honduras Maya Inn Hotel allows virtual tours of its rooms, lobby, restaurant and even parking garage! This would be a great website to incorporate into a unit on hotel or even food vocabulary (students can see restaurant menus on the website as well).
3. Historic and Military Museum in Chile
This site allows visitors to learn about the architecture of the military museum. They can also visit each room and see what’s inside. This will appeal to students interested in history.
4. España es cultura/Patrimonio virtual
Here, students can take in 360 degree views of some of Spain’s most important cultural and architectural sites and works of art. These include La Alhambra, La Giralda and El Acueducto de Segovia. Students can see where these are located on a map and then zoom in on them and walk through them. In seconds, they will feel as if they were really there!
5. Universidad del Valle de México, 360 degree tours
For students who wish to see what a university campus is like in Mexico, send them here! This site allows visitors to pan around parts of the Universidad del Valle de México campus. Even though the tours are mostly limited to the gym, soccer field and basketball courts, students might even become interested enough to study abroad here for real!
6. Virtual Tour of Mexico City’s main plaza, 1910
This page offers a tour of Mexico City’s central plaza, but from an interesting viewpoint: That of the city at the beginning of the twentieth century and the start of its social revolution. Another neat page for history buffs! But wait, there’s more! Visitors can actually download an app that allows them to move around and interact in the plaza. Students will love this one!
7. Chichén Itzá TimeTours (App)
This app is part of the TimeTours series. It has to be downloaded, so it might be best to let students check this one out at home. But, like the Mexico City plaza app, it allows for some neat time travel, this time to the Mayan city of Chichén Itzá. Users of the app claim it is as good as any tour guide! Plus, it features an awesome “now and then” panorama to compare the Mayan world past and present.
8. Mexico’s Museo Nacional de Antropología
Mexico City’s Museo Nacional de Antropología is world famous for housing some of the country’s most oldest and most important cultural artifacts. On this website visitors can explore the different rooms of the museum as well as its archaeological treasures. And, bonus…there’s music and 360 degree views!
9. Mexico City’s National Palace
Mexico City’s National Palace was home to Mexico’s rulers beginning with the arrival of the Spanish. It was constructed atop an Aztec palace and today houses the state archives, some of painter Diego Rivera’s most important murals and the bell that was rung to signal the beginning of Mexican Independence. Visitors to the website can check out the murals as well as different rooms of the National Palace.
10. Google Maps
If you still haven’t seen something you feel your students might be interested in visiting, there’s always good ol’ Google Maps. Students can just type the destination of the place they want to virtually visit and then choose “street view” to view it from the street level. They can be anywhere in the world in just seconds!
With ten different ways to virtually travel, there’s no reason not to include virtual trips and tours in your Spanish curriculum. What better way to study abroad in the digital age?