How do children acquire language? Compared to adults, children are often referenced as the model for language learning. But how do they learn? They learn to speak gradually over time through trial and error, careful guidance and observation. But you won’t often see a toddler hunched over a grammar book studying verb conjugations. Children learn through being engaged in the world around them. They play, sing, paint, dance, color and perform. They use the arts to express themselves and understand the world around them. They stretch their creative muscles and in the process they learn how to learn. Artistic expression actively and creatively engages their brains and ensures the improvement of long-term memory.
This process is not reserved solely for children. Everyone learns and retains information better when they are involved and interested. Art provides the perfect vehicle for education. Through art, students can learn about the world around them. Art can transport people to new worlds and into new perspectives. It encourages discovery through active interest.
How can art be applied to the Spanish language classroom? Any student in any classroom will only retain a small portion of the content presented. The amount of information retained varies based on the means of presentation. Through a lecture, for example, students will only be able to recall a small percentage of the content years later. But as students are encouraged to actively participate with visuals, performances and music their ability to remember the content increases significantly. A student will undoubtedly remember the details of high school play that they performed in over a lecture about that play. This strategy can be implemented in language learning.
Students can learn colors through enjoying a Joan Miró or Picasso painting. They can describe shapes through Antonio Gaudí’s architectural marvels. Opinions and feelings can be shared while listening to Spanish guitar. History can be taught through Velázquez’s paintings and students can practice the past tense with Pre-Columbian artifacts. The possibilities for art in the classroom are endless.
That isn’t to say the grammar book is out of place in the classroom. Textbooks can be useful, but they are restricting. For the Spanish teacher, consider putting aside the book and incorporating art. Allow the students to engage with the piece and open up new possibilities. New vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation can be introduced through discussion. How does it make you feel? Where does it take you? What does it mean to you?
As with children, the language skills will develop as the students become absorbed in the process and they will enjoy the journey in a more meaningful way. Teachers really looking to push their students should explore the vast possibilities of using art to teach language.