This is a problem I’ve had and I’m sure you do to. You’re trying hard to stay in bounds so you use a cognate you’re sure your students will understand. Many do, but many don’t. It’s a story that’s played out in all of our classes. It’s hard sometimes too, as the teacher, to stop and have to write director or capitán or even simple on the board because you know just how obvious the written version will be. There’s also the embarassment that can come to she or he who doesn’t understand the spoken cognate when she/he hears the chuckles and the “es obvio” come from classmates. 

Well, this morning when I should have been planning, I read Mike Peto‘s post, Béisbol, Baseball. And I’m SO GLAD I DID! I knew immediately I had to give it a try today! I was presenting the Sie7e song, Tengo Tu Love by telling the students a little about Sie7e the artist. I had jotted down several sentences that I was going to say about Sie7e with pictures in sort of a Look and Discuss type of activity. Here’s a few of the sentences I was planning on sharing with students with previously unknown cognates underlined:

Sie7e es un artista.

Sie7e toca la guitarra y canta música Pop.

Cuando toca música y canta, se llama Sie7e. 

Pero, en realidad se llama David.

Es de Puerto Rico

Cuando Sie7e canta, canta de la paz y el amor.

Es un artista famoso.

Sie7e tiene una esposa y un niño.

Any one of these cognates could cause comprehension issues. Luckily, someone sought to clarify artista right off the bat. I quickly explained that we were going to start a new ritual. I thought I could keep the explanation in the target language, so I gave that a try. Here’s how I explained it in Spanish to my beginning students:

Profe dice “artista.”

Un estudiante no comprende. 

Profe grita, “¡Béisbol!”

La clase grita, “Baseball!”

Profe repite “artista.”

La clase grita “artist!”

As it turns out, even though it seems simple enough, and even though I’m certain that my students “understood” the words I was saying, they didn’t get it at first. The cognitive load of understanding the words, mixed with recognizing it as a sequence of events, and grasping the concept that this was a way to clarify meaning for them was all just too much. So, I quickly turned my Ñ around to the Inglés side and explained the process to them and why we were doing it. 35 seconds later we had eliminated all ambiguity and were ready to try out the strategy. Sometimes L1 lets us efficiently get details out of the way to make room for more CI.

It worked like a charm! 

I immediately saw a difference in the classroom energy and response level. Some people ask me how do we ensure that no students feel on the spot or embarrassed when stopping the teacher. Well, this is another way for sure. It was such a bonding moment for them all. When kids yelled, “artist!” I heard 75% or so of the class yelling. I saw several expressions of clarity and head nods from the others. No sense of embarassment which might otherwise sneak in.

I’m a huge fan of keeping things as simple as possible. This is a fantastically simple solution and I am so thankful that Mike posted it!

Peto’s Stupidly Simple Solution to Hearing Cognates

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