Content is just as important as language learning. Its primary purpose is not to provide material for grammar practice. Communicating interculturally requires that speakers have a broad and systematic understanding of the target culture in order to know WHAT to say, not just HOW to say it. Cultural learning is just as important for communication as language skills, and should be systematically taught from the very beginning, and not reserved for upper division courses.
One example of this can be seen in the two units in Ritmos devoted to Mexico and Spain. Students develop a solid overview of their historical development, unique cultural attitudes and relationship to each other and the USA, with special emphasis given to regionalism in each nation. Students will come away with a much deeper appreciation and respect for these countries and their people, which will encourage them to communicate and interact with native speakers.
Written texts and listening pieces are drawn from hundreds of interviews with native Spanish speakers, with content appropriate for novice and intermediate learners. This real, unscripted and normal-speed language provides students with excellent training in listening comprehension, preparing students for real encounters in the target language as well as providing natural models for their own production. Careful selection of interview questions and responses, along with varied pedagogical interventions make this authentic language accessible and ‘doable’ for beginning learners.
Y en eso me siento muy mexicano, en cosas chicas, como las botas, los cintos, la ropa mexicana, ropa que es más western. Cuando he ido yo a tiendas en Chicago, en Kansas City, o en Texas, a tiendas mexicanas, tiendas que son casi todo para mexicanos, la ropa todo el tiempo es muy western: botas, las camisas, los pantalones muy western. Y en eso, cuando me pongo yo las botas, me siento muy mexicano. Cuando me pongo yo unos ¿cómo se dicen? docksiders, me siento como muy americano, no sé por qué. Me siento muy americano cuando me pongo docksiders y muy mexicano cuando me pongo botas.
Ritmos covers grammar and structures necessary to function at the Intermediate-Low level. This implies both a reduced and expanded grammatical program: reduced in terms of number of topics, but greatly expanded in terms of review, recycling and practice.
By focusing on fewer elements in more detail, students actually achieve better linguistic proficiency more quickly. Two of the ten units provide extensive review and recycling of vocabulary and grammar from the four preceding units, giving students a chance to actually assimilate the material they are learning.
The amount of vocabulary covered is not overwhelming, consisting of roughly 15 new words per instruction day, 500-600 for the semester, selected based on word frequency, classroom utility and connection to course content.
These items are consistently reviewed and practiced, allowing students to solidify them before moving on. This leads to better retention and a much more enjoyable student experience.