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Campus Now

Midsummer Issue (Jul.)

A WASEDA Miscellany

Manuela Almaraz

Learning a foreign language is like building a house

Manuela Almaraz
Associate Professor, Faculty of Commerce

I was born in Salamanca in 1955. Salamanca is a small and friendly town located west of the Iberian Peninsula, 212 km away from Madrid and 100 km away from the Portuguese border.

Salamanca is famous for both its old quarter, of great artistic richness, and for its University, founded in 1218. It is the oldest in Spain and one of the oldest in Europe.

I studied at this University and obtained my degree from the Philosophy and Literature Faculty many years ago.

I have always wanted to teach for a living and become a teacher, but I had never thought I would end up teaching Spanish in Japan. My first contact with the Japan world was during my college years as the Japanese students who came to Salamanca to study Spanish and I shared some classes. In the end I married one of them and went to live in Japan.

In 1979 I started to work as a part-time Spanish teacher in several universities of the Tokyo area. At the beginning of the nineties I went back to Spain and for a few years I worked at "Cursos Internacionales", a University teaching centre for Spanish as a foreign language. In 2000 I returned to Japan and nowadays this is my fifth year as a Spanish teacher at the School of Commerce in Waseda University.

I always tell my students that learning a foreign language is like building a house. Grammatical contents should be the girders, the pillars of the house. It should be also necessary some good foundations. These foundations should be the words, the vocabulary. In order to reach a high level in grammar and vocabulary it is necessary to practice. "Writing" should be the cement that sticks both foundations and structure together. "Speaking" should be the front door: if you do not speak, you will never get into your house. "Reading" could be one of the windows of your house, because when you open it, you can have a look to the language. Through one of any window of you new house you will see the culture of the countries where the language you learn is spoken, for language is the key to open all different windows. Finally, "Pronunciation" should be the floor, as it supports the manner of speaking. The teacher is the work superintendent, a person who guides, advises and helps students on the building process. The teacher should also help students to communicate effectively in the language they are studying, since every language reflects the way of thinking of the country where it is spoken.

Ultimately, as it happens in the tale of the "Three Little Pigs", the quality of the house you built depends on your personal and individual effort.

It is very important to create an environment based on confidence between the teacher and the students in that building process. The teacher should be close and approachable to the students and do everything he/she could to make language studying pleasant and appealing. In my case it is Spanish, which is the mother language of 400 million people in the world. For many years now I have been trying to achieve this task.

With some students of Spanish Communication in January