Ever heard of the old saying, “the best way to learn is to teach”?
Well, in this post you’ll find out that it’s absolutely and wonderfully true.
Not only that, you’ll see why it doesn’t matter how advanced you are in Spanish at the moment—you too can become a Spanish teacher, if only in spirit.
That teaching spirit will take you farther, faster than you may have thought possible.
What Does Science Have to Say About It?
In 1984, a joint study by the New York State Division for Youth and the University of Rochester made a startling discovery
The study tested two groups of students. One group was told to learn specific material and prepare for an examination while the other was explicitly told to study because they would have to teach others. Researchers found that the latter group got significantly higher scores on tests of the material they had worked with.
Beyond this, another strong study pointed to the tremendous gains of tutoring across diverse settings. Non-science major college students were divided into two groups, with one tasked to teach genetics to middle school students and the other to tutor high school students. Using pre- and post-tutoring assessments, they were able to determine that the tutors scored significantly higher on questions related to their respectively handled curricula.
These findings point to the existence of a “tutoring effect” where the teacher gains substantial knowledge of the subject matter by virtue of teaching it.
Yet another study suggests that, in terms of harvesting the cognitive gains of teaching/tutoring, we haven’t even seen the best yet.
You may say, “Well, that all sounds good and dandy, but I’m not really the type who wants to tutor or teach Spanish.”
Well, good point.
Perhaps you don’t want to actually teach anything, are shy or simply aren’t at an advanced enough level to impart knowledge.
But remember that in the first study, the students never actually taught. They merely expected to teach others, and still, they were able to harvest cognitive gains.
Will it still work for Spanish learners who actually know beforehand they won’t be teaching anyway? At least the students in the study were “blind” and were really made to believe they’d need to teach.
Researchers actually did studies on this one. They compared the cognitive gains of those who actually taught the material and those who simply worked alone and basically talked aloud to themselves, as if preparing to teach. While one study placed a slight advantage in gains for those who actually taught, another study discovered no reliable differences between the two groups.
What this means is that you don’t actually have to teach in order to harvest the benefits. You can simply “mock teach” and be better for it! It’s good news for those who don’t really look forward to interacting with students or hunting for willing guinea pigs.
By simply changing your perspective, by assuming the shoes of a teacher, you step onto a level of linguistic understanding never seen by other language learners.
Are you curious as to why this is?
What is it about teaching that opens the floodgates of learning to the teacher, even the “mock teacher”? Let’s find out!
3 Reasons Why Teaching Spanish Works for Learning
1. You Get In a Different Mindset
When you were just thinking about teaching yourself, you only needed to hit the books, work the apps or watch the videos for yourself. When you expect to teach, you feel a sense of accountability or responsibility for your student—and for your ability to fully understand and explain the material.
In the latter scenario you’re thinking, “Well, it may be just me now, but someday I might be called upon to teach this thing to someone else. I better get this figured out. Now.” There’s a sense of urgency and importance that’s being placed on the table. Besides, you don’t wanna embarrass yourself in front of your tutee.
It activates a different motivational switch for you.
If you’ve read literature on second language acquisition, study after study points to motivation as one of the most crucial elements of success.
Motivation matters. That’s why lovers easily acquire the language of their partners. That’s why you suddenly get good at language when your promotion hinges on it. That’s why you know the meaning of “¿dónde está el baño?” (where is the bathroom?)
The second part of this mental shift is that teaching plops you into a whole different kind of mindset—one that’s more productive than others.
Instead of thinking, “what’s the most effective way of memorizing this?” you’re now into, “what’s the most effective way of teaching this?”
You’re now approaching Spanish on a different plane. For example, you’re asking yourself: “How can I present Spanish noun genders so a beginner can understand them better? What angles, approaches and techniques do I use to make Spanish pronouns stick?”
Now you’re asking a different set of questions than before. And because you’re tinkering with a different set of questions, your mind shifts into a different gear—a higher one.
So, your train of thought stops going in circles like, “what’s the Spanish word for ‘hobbies’ again?” Instead, you’re thinking, “How do I make the concept of pasatiempos memorable for a learner?”
In reality, you could be a beginner yourself, but in your mind you’re already anticipating how to make others understand Spanish. You’re in a mental state that’s far more advanced than that of typical beginners—one that’ll bring you far more good. You’re seeking out the key information that makes these ideas memorable. You’re learning how things work.
By asking a different set of questions, you can actually switch to a different mental process that ramps your brain to a higher trajectory.
2. It Gives You Plenty of Memory Aids
Not only does teaching change your motivation and mindset, it gives you a keener memory for Spanish.
Teaching prep has a lot to do with this.
The process of planning how to teach or “mock teach” Spanish is itself brimming with cognitive gains. So even before you actually start dishing out some 411 to others, you’re already harvesting gains for yourself.
Let’s say you’re interested in Spanish prepositions.
So you get into “teacher mode” and try to mentally create lesson plans, imagining what it would be like to be on the receiving end of such lessons. Your thoughts could be along the lines of: “Hey, Spanish prepositions would be remembered better with a story about a girl looking for her toy doll. She rummages through every room of the house, looks behind doors, peeks into boxes, drawers and cabinets, inspects countertops and tables and learns Spanish prepositions along the way.”
Guess what. By thinking like this, you’re making the whole subject more memorable for you! In the process of creating your Spanish prepositions story, you’re actually creating mental anchors for yourself that help you remember the prepositions that you were planning to teach.
The whole process forces you, often unconsciously, to carve out markers in your memory so that it will be very difficult for you not to learn and embed in your long-term memory the topic that you’re going to teach to others.
So by playing Spanish teacher, you’re actually making yourself a much better learner. By intending to help others, you’re actually helping yourself the most.
3. It Gives You More Avenues to Practice Spanish
The third reason why this works is that playing teacher is really just another way of practicing Spanish. It gives you the chance to integrate and elaborate on your knowledge.
Whether you’re alone in your room and talking to yourself, in a coffee shop with a friend or Skyping with someone from the other side of the globe, it’s really just an opportunity to practice the language.
Teaching gives you avenues for repetition. (Repetition being another crucial element of second language acquisition.) But this type of repetition is of a higher gear than ordinary repetition. Because you’re teaching (or “mock teaching”), you’re not merely repeating things per se, but fine-tuning your knowledge of Spanish as well.
Hearing yourself explain Spanish rules of grammar or usage, for example, reveals to you the things you actually know. Often, there’s a gap between what we think we know and what we actually know.
Teaching allows you to formally think about what you know. It helps you clarify your own comprehension because you’re forced not only to remember the subject but to present it to others logically, systematically and in memorable ways.
This kind of self-monitoring allows you to spot both your weaknesses and strengths. You’ll know your strengths because when you start explaining the topics, they’ll be a breeze. And when you’re asked questions, you’re able to address them adequately. Your weaknesses will show because you’ll experience difficulty in transferring that knowledge. And that’s characterized by starts and stops when it comes to explaining the topic.
So, now knowing the three reasons why teaching works, are you ready to give it a try?
In the next section, I’ll give some tips for those who want to casually teach Spanish to other people. After that, we’ll talk about tips for how to “mock teach,” without anyone else around.
How to Casually Teach Spanish to Others
This section is for those interested in teaching as a learning experience.
I’m talking about learners who are interested in involving other people. Ready to teach Spanish in a professional but slightly more casual manner?
Sure, this isn’t necessarily meant for aspiring professional educators. Teaching in the United States as a high school or university teacher would require a degree of some sort and months and years of training. This one here is more for Spanish learners who want to boost their grasp of Spanish via the magic of teaching. But you never know, it could lead to a lucrative tutoring side-business.
For all you folks, here are some teaching tips.
Write Down a Clear Lesson Plan
If mock teachers need to have a clear lesson plan even when they don’t have students in sight, tutors need to have a clear, executable plan of action.
Let’s say you’re planning a session on Spanish Greetings.
How are you going to explain the topic? What examples will you give? Do you have visual aids and stuff?
This is all about being ready to teach—having the notes in your hand before you Skype. Otherwise, you might run out of things to say. No, you can’t wing it. Not unless you’re approaching the level of native speakers.
Don’t forget to use online resources to your advantage. For example, you can practice the topic of your lesson on FluentU.
Start with Absolute Beginners
Okay, so you’re ready. Where on God’s green earth do you find people who are interested in listening to you teach Spanish?
Enter Language Exchange Sites. These are places on the Web where people go and help each other learn foreign languages. Check out sites like:
You’ll find no shortage of people who want to learn Spanish for free! (You’re not charging, right?)
You can see who’s looking for tutoring in your neighborhood by putting up flyers. Contact Spanish teachers at your local middle school, high school or college, and see if they’re in need of an assistant, guest teacher or tutor for after classes. Try sticking an ad on a local Facebook page, Craigslist or Wyzant.
Wyzant is perhaps the safest and most professional option of the three, as it has long been established as an excellent site for pairing up teachers and students. It comes highly recommended for language students and language teachers alike, and it focuses on making matches for local, in-person instruction. So, you can meet up at your home or the local coffee shop to teach or to learn. And here’s another great trick: Sign up for a session or two with a local Spanish tutor to see how they teach, then replicate their style of teaching with a student of your own.
If you’d rather teach from home using your glorious internet connection—thank you, modern world—then you can opt to teach via a site like Verbling. Verbling is the big dog in the online language teaching area, and for good reason. It’s simple to get started as a teacher or student, and then off you go! They’ll help you determine whether or not you’re a good fit for a certain student, based on your skills, experience, price and availability. This can be a convenient way for first-time Spanish tutors to dip their toes in the water.
Regardless of whether you choose Wyzant, Verbling or another option, register and these sites will pair you off with people interested in Spanish. Right off the bat, (when you get the other person on Skype), ask them where they’re at in terms of Spanish. If she says she’s a Spanish major who’s looking to brush up on advanced verb conjugations or hone fluency by interacting with natives, be honest and tell her that other folks can do a better job.
Unless you’re nearly a native speaker, you’ll want to pass on advanced students looking for a more authentic experience. Beginners and intermediates will be more in your wheelhouse. Look for absolute beginners. They’ll think you’re a Spanish genius.
Seriously though, with absolute beginners, you’re not biting off more than you can chew and have more leeway with topics you’ll want to practice on. But be honest with your language partner and say that you’re an intermediate/advanced Spanish learner yourself and that you’d be more than happy to start him or her off in Spanish and share what you’ve learned so far. Set it right and it will be a wonderful, productive and mutually satisfying partnership.
Slow Is Your Friend
One of the reasons why you go for absolute beginners is that they’ll afford you the chance to go slow. Going slow works to both your advantages. It will allow your partner to absorb the present lesson, and it will provide you enough time to prepare and absorb the next lesson.
Remember that although you’re teaching casually (perhaps once or twice a week at maximum), you’ll need prepping time. You’ll need to review past lessons and have them resonate in your head.
If you’re going too fast, there might be too much pressure on your part. You might get overwhelmed and instead of learning as you teach, you’ll be in panic mode and not remembering anything at all. That sort of defeats our purpose, doesn’t it?
So pace your lessons right. Pace them according to your own pace of learning and lesson preparation. Not too fast. Remember, you’re teaching in order to cement those very Spanish lessons in your head, and at the same time help someone else along the way.
Repetition Is Key
Native speakers often get bored or frustrated when teaching absolute beginners. They can’t believe it takes a while for another to learn something they’ve already talked about 18 times. They take their language for granted and sometimes fail to put themselves into the shoes of the absolute beginner.
You won’t have this problem because you’re learning the language as well. Another reason you’re choosing absolute beginners as partners is that they’ll force you to repeat the lessons. A lot.
And that repetition will only make you better. It will cement your understanding and deepen your comprehension. So, you won’t get bored going over the same material time and time again!
Be Honest with Your Partner and with Yourself
Don’t try to impress your partner and pose as somebody you’re not. Remember when I told you earlier to set things up properly and tell your partner your own Spanish limitations?
If you get asked a question you don’t know the answer to, say so. Tell your student you’ll get back to him after you find the answer to his question. Guess what? With his question, you’re forced to learn something new, something you haven’t thought of before. Isn’t that cool?
Beginners help fill the foundational gaps in your knowledge and give you a unique look into learning Spanish. With every question they ask, you’ll learn as much. So don’t be afraid that you’ll be asked something you don’t know the answer to. Think of it as an enriching experience. Make sure that you really do your homework and try to discover the answers for him (and for yourself). He’ll appreciate your effort and respect you more for it.
How to Learn by Mock Teaching Spanish
You now know that teaching rocks. But still, you just don’t want to do it, or you don’t feel capable of doing it. That’s fine. Like I said, you can “mock teach” as a way of learning Spanish and experience a tremendous boost in your comprehension—right in your own room.
The first thing to remember when mock teaching is that it practically quacks like actual teaching, save for one thing: there are no students around. (In essence, you’re both the student and the teacher at the same time.)
So here are the steps:
1. Read Up!
How can you mock teach if you haven’t got the slightest idea what the topic is all about? So don that researcher hat and find as much info as possible on your topic.
For example, you’re learning Spanish noun genders. Research it online and take copious notes. Write on index cards and bullet point important things about the topic. These bullet points would be the very things you would like to hammer in during the mock teaching session.
Your cards may contain statements like:
- Gender refers to grammatical genders, not sex. (Do not look for male or female qualities in the objects.)
- Other languages, like French, German and Russian have gendered nouns. (English doesn’t.)
- The general rule is: O is masculine, A is feminine.
- There are exceptions. (Devise creative ways to make them memorable.)
- The number and adjective forms must match the gender of the noun. (Now that’s grammatical harmony!)
2. Plan the Lesson
Now that you have plenty of material, arrange it all in a logical/sequential way.
How will you teach the subject?
Plan the flow of your discussion. As early as here, you can try out mock teaching. Try to explain a bullet point on your card. Was it hard? It’s a signal that your comprehension is still limited. You need to work on it. (This kind of self-monitoring is one of the advantages of the process.)
3. Work the Visual Aids
You have to do them. Just because there are no students around doesn’t mean you can skip them.
Working the visual aids, looking for interesting pictures to make your lessons engaging, choosing the colors and fonts for your text, they all work to make the lesson very memorable for you.
Whether you’re making individual slides for a PowerPoint presentation or writing on cardboard, the time you invest in these things will all come back to haunt your memory—in a beautiful way. You’ll remember your topic because you actually went through the process of elaborating on everything through pictures, colorful texts, weird fonts and cool sounds.
Don’t skip this step because this is one where you start cementing the lessons into your long-term memory.
Now that you know what to say and the visual aids to back it up, it’s time to teach—mock teach, that is.
Imagine you’re in class, or in a coffee shop with a friend or Skyping with somebody on the other side of the globe, whichever you prefer.
Give it a shot. Execute your lesson plan. See how it goes. If possible, record the whole thing, so you can replay the audio or video and note how you did.
Go on. Talk aloud to yourself. Gesture away. Don’t worry, nobody’s looking. Look around, it’s just you! So have at it.
Don’t think of this as a do-or-die situation. Don’t think you only got one shot at this thing. Actually, you can do this as many times as you like. You can do this until you can do it with one eye closed. So don’t be too hard on yourself, don’t try to be perfect. It’s absolutely okay to mess up, for example, and forget the things you want to say. Look at your written copy if you have to.
You messed up? Start over. (Nobody will ever find out.)
Just be sure that, before you move on, you run through the lesson one final, polished time. Put a little pressure on yourself and pretend that you’re actually holding that lesson with your imaginary student. How well are you able to execute a full lesson?
Move on to the next step to evaluate yourself.
5. Ask the Hard Questions
This isn’t about anticipating the questions that a beginner may have about the topic. (You did that in step #2.)
It’s about being honest about your performance and asking yourself, “did I do a good job of transferring knowledge?” and “did I find it easy to explain the topic or did I stumble throughout and end up confusing even myself?”
If you had trouble explaining a topic for an imaginary someone, it’s a good reflection of the grasp that you have of the topic. The benefit of this mock teaching exercise is that it reveals gaps in your understanding so that you can then take action.
The whole thing is really a self-monitoring exercise. And it’s quite vivid. You can feel in your body the ease or the tension while talking. You can notice the thumping of your heart or the rise and fall of your chest. You can hear yourself and notice how often you’re stuck. If you have it taped or recorded, then you can really evaluate your performance much better and spot the sticking points.
You think you can do better next time? Do it!
Then evaluate that performance as well. Evaluate it as a reflection of your understanding of the topic. Repeat several times and before you know it, Spanish noun genders will be such a breeze you can explain them to anyone you meet.
6. Seek Out Other Ways to Mock Teach
This time, it doesn’t involve talking aloud to yourself and working with cardboard visual aids. The Internet has provided other indirect ways for you to mock teach.
Online forums are a great way to go. Language sites have great language learning communities that you can actively be a part of.
Every so often, people in these communities ask Spanish language questions, and many of these are types of questions that even a beginner can answer.
How about taking the time to answer some of these questions? Some might require a little research, but this research will only serve to deepen your personal comprehension of Spanish. So, take it upon yourself to answer a question or two a day.
YouTube can be a great site to indirectly mock teach. Search for channels that teach Spanish. Choose a topic that you want to learn about. Let’s say you want to learn about Spanish adjectives. Watch the lesson.
After doing that a few times, do an online search (with written notes!) about the said topic. This is the most crucial part and will broaden and deepen your grasp of Spanish adjectives. Then go back to YouTube and, in the comments section, add something to the discussion—something that was not covered by the video. Because hey, there will always be something not covered in these tutorials. After your research, you’ll always have something to enrich the video lessons.
Not only will other readers thank you for it, but the lessons or insights you have shared and typed in the comments section, they’ll stay with you for the rest of your days. This is a case of helping others but helping yourself the most. (So, adding to Spanish language Wikipedia entries, anyone?)
Another way of indirectly mock teaching is by sharing the material you produced in #3. Remember the material that you developed as aid for your mock teaching?
You might have made a cool PowerPoint presentation, share it on slideshare.net or sharemylesson.com. Came up with cool digital flashcards? Head to anki.com and make everyone’s day.
Knowing that other people can see and will use your work will add an additional onus. Another motivational switch is turned and it will only mean better Spanish learning for you. Again, when you try to help others, it comes back to you several fold.
So, there you go. The most effective way to learn Spanish.
Only one question remains: Are you up for it?
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