Chances are you don’t want to do homework. Let’s face it: who does?
As a Language Specialist well-versed in Spanish-language learning, I have my own thoughts on homework: it fulfills a purpose, so definitely do it. However, rather than tell you that homework is of the utmost importance, I will explain the role and the various types of homework, as well as better ways for you to approach your homework. And yes, even though it is not the norm, it is possible to learn a foreign language without it.
There are different types of exercises to learning. Mechanical exercises, such as repetition drills, are great for helping you memorize new vocab and grammar. However, these don’t allow you to use the vocabulary in context. Associative exercises, where you start to associate the material learned, such as fill in the blanks exercises, are a great second step. Communicative exercises are the final type of exercises, and will get you chatting with a classmate. The obvious choice is communicative exercises, but most students need to follow the first two types of exercises in order to get to communicative.
Ever had a teacher explain a new grammar point and then ask you to chat with a classmate using what you just learned? Your classmate and you probably just stared at each other wondering, “What is going on?” What happened was your teacher skipped two obvious steps. Following these steps will make the transition to communicative much easier. You’ll also make less mistakes and build your confidence in order to speak if you do mechanical and associative exercises before you move on to communicative.
In an ideal class, you are spending most of it speaking with classmates in the target language and doing communicative exercises.
Homework is meant to reinforce whatever work you are doing in class. A teacher cannot cover everything, and some of the more mechanical work can be tedious for some students. Unless your homework involves interviewing someone or conversing with a native speaker, you won’t be doing communicative exercises, but you can do plenty of work that will fully prepare you to come to class ready and confident enough to chat away.
Is all homework good homework? Yes and no. Yes because even if you have down the conjugation for all regular verbs in the present indicative mood, it never hurts to review them before learning simple past. On the other hand, no because you might feel like you are not being challenged. It depends on the student, but generally a teacher should give you homework that is challenging, but not so difficult that you feel discouraged. If she has done a good job leading you, this should not be a problem.
Ideally, homework is a combination of the following:
In addition, the student should be asked to have a structured schedule for homework.
Teachers often do not want to overwork their adult students, especially because these students usually have full-time jobs, families, and a social life. The problem is students generally do not have a system implemented to reinforce their learning outside of class. When the student does not have direct access to the language outside or does not make sufficient efforts to access the language, homework is the only way to continue to build a foundation in the target language when students are not with the teacher. A bit of homework will make a bit of difference in your learning. A substantial amount of homework could make a substantial difference.
Realistic expectations are key. I have often found a direct correlation between students who do their homework and those who do well in class. If you feel your Spanish is not improving, the first thing you have to ask yourself is whether you are doing your homework. And if you are, how are you approaching it?
Believe it or not, there is a right and wrong way to do your homework. Are you doing everything right before you meet your teacher? What’s your motivation? Are your doing your homework because you have to or because you want to improve? The best way to approach your homework is through consistency. Twenty to thirty minutes every day is much more effective than five hours in one. In the first case, you are creating a habit and building that learning muscle. In the second, you are simply cramming and will probably forget much of what you review. Though more difficult, it is always best if you could schedule your homework and “Spanish time” for the same time every day.
Some of my clients say they do not have time for homework. In this case, my job is to adjust my methodology. Perhaps more reading exercises are done in class, or I might ask the student to start reading the newspaper in Spanish or watching Latin American soaps. In these example, the student is still doing homework, but I label it as “optional.” In other cases, the student does absolutely no work related to Spanish outside our session. I have to work around this too and maximize the time we spend together with exercises, task-based learning, and raising the student-to-teacher speaking ratio.
Whether or not you do homework is a decision you have to make with your instructor, and one that will be quite different if you are in a group class, where the teacher might not be able to adjust to your needs, or in a private class, where the experienced teacher should clearly be able to. Either way, you must be confident and feel that you will meet your goals in the target language with or without homework. How to do that is something you have to review with your teacher as well, but it could include readings, television, music, chatting with friends or finding an online pal to help you out. Perhaps you are surrounded by Spanish at work and can use your skills on a colleague. Either way, there are different approaches you could take. The important thing is that they work.
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Irma is a trained linguist, native Spanish speaker, and teacher. She is the founder and CEO of Diáfano.
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