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Wednesday, April 16, 2014 (read 82282 times)

Teaching Spanish - Follow Your Nose

by Lauris

One of the issues that arises in the study of NLP (we discussed this subject a few months ago regarding the communication technique known as Nuero-linguistic programming) can actually help us discover a way to more effectively communicate with whom we are speaking to. The idea is that we should align our speech in accordance with the communication “preferences” of our conversation partner; these preferences can be visual, auditory or kinesthetic. If we succeed in finding these preferences, we can employ a better and more compelling discourse using those linguistic elements favored by our interlocutor.

It has occurred to me recently that one of the aspects of memory that we control the least, yet is very strong and long lasting, is our olfactory memory. In my case, for example, I find it almost impossible for me to remember my childhood without the smell of the perfume that my grandmother wore. A few months ago, I was walking down the street and I ran across a woman that was wearing the same perfume as my grandmother’s. All I could do was stand there dumbfounded for a moment by the intensity of the memory that this perfume recalled.

Semana Santa in Granada

There was also a time when I was working in Granada, a number of years ago, during Semana Santa. I was accompanying a group of international students around the city to see the Holy Week Processions. One afternoon, we watched one of the most important processions held in the city: La Aurora. This procession leaves from the Plaza San Miguel Bajo in the Albaicín neighborhood and the parade route descends along some impossibly narrow side streets. These streets also have the added challenge that they are made of cobblestones, have irregular steps and other peculiarities that turn this procession into a calvary for the “costaleros”  who have to carry the float with the statue of the Virgin Mary. It is impressive watching the Nazarenos maneuver their paso through the narrow streets that this neighborhood, known as the “Grifos de San Jose”, is famous for. But I digress…

As I was saying, the class and I finished watching the procession and the next day we talked about what they “felt” as they were watching the procession. The majority of them emphasized the pungent smell of orange blossoms that permeated the air, the aroma of melted wax from the candles and the scent of the moist earth (it rained that afternoon). We spent the entire class describing smells and the sensations they evoked which ended up making for a very interesting class indeed. Later, we had the good fortune to visit an exhibit called “The Aromas of Al-Ándalus” which offered the visitor an “olfactory tour” of Islamic-era Granada which added to this interest in the senses.

When we describe something from our past, we frequently concentrate only on the visual elements of our memory— which is fundamental to translating and communicating our perceptions. But by doing this we forget the auditory, olfactory and even tactile elements which together form the sum of the sensations that an object or experience imparts.

Obviously, working on this multi-sensory “amplification” within the framework of our oral expression is limited by our level of understanding and capacity to speak Spanish. It is here where expressing with more or less nuance forms an important part of the objectives within the Spanish language classroom.

Our job is to keep our classrooms smelling fresh as newly picked roses instead of something old and tired. Why don’t we open up our teaching possibilities to include the transmission of the olfactory and tactile perceptions? By doing so, we can create an original learning environment and no one can say our class is going stale.

The point of all this is not to devise a course directed at creating professional wine tasters—far from it. What I am suggesting instead, in my humble experience as a teacher, is something that has worked well for me—working to improve students’ communication skills by increasing their capacity to transmit nuance. One learning tool that I like to use is the multi-sensory “tool box”. In this tool box we can include different objects like a rock, a piece of wood and any other objects that have interesting tactile properties. We should also include some small bottles with different fragrances such as cinnamon, vinegar, perfume…

With this box of goodies we can work in pairs or small groups and, while blindfolded, the students will have to describe what they are touching and smelling. This fun and effective exercise will help us reach our goal of increasing our capacity to express more clearly and accurately what we perceive.

In the end, after all, all you have to do is follow your nose, right?

Keywords: semana santa,speak spanish,teaching spanish,spanish teaching,language teaching,olfactory memory


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