Oral classes in a foreign language at advanced level are more problematic than many might assume. As the authors of this new course point out, it is often idealistic to expect learners struggling with the language to spend a timetabled hour discussing some complex issue about which they know little or which does not fire their imagination.
Finding the right materials to encourage students to speak the language with enthusiasm and confidence is never easy, and one must often manipulate an already unnatural flow of dialogue to prevent classes being dominated by the more confident speakers. Interpreting Spanish seeks to respond to these difficulties by creating a structured course that involves everyone in the class working on targeted activities.
The aim of Interpreting Spanish is to promote the acquisition of oral skills for post-A-level students throughout a degree programme. The core of the course is the development of liaison interpreting skills, but there are a wide range of activities to be carried out in the classroom that should improve oral competence more generally.
These include individual research, pair and group work of different kinds and, in some units, laboratory exercises to improve the handling of difficult linguistic elements such as the subjunctive - standard language-laboratory drills perhaps, but they are used sparingly and are always framed in an interpreting context so that they should work to good effect.
Together with clear, useful and user-friendly guidance on the skills required to be a good interpreter, the student handouts book provides brief but useful reminders of difficult grammatical points, thematic lists of phrases (for example, introducing people, apologising) and items of key vocabulary in Spanish, or in English, which the student has to research.
The tutor's handbook is equally well written and is a helpful manual for those who have never taught interpreting before. It begins with a series of brief chapters on using the course, providing feedback, assessment, preparing one's own materials and helping students with note taking, one of the key skills highlighted in the student book. The second part contains the text of all the exercises.
The texts from levels one and two are recorded on five cassette tapes. Level three exercises are designed to be conducted live, or pre-recorded, by an English and a Spanish speaker improvising dialogue based on detailed notes given in the tutor's handbooks.
The topics range from arranging travel and business meetings in the tourism sector in level one, through mass media, education, commerce, politics, and the environment in level two, to Aids, trade with Latin America, the wine industry and defence in level three. The conversations developed around these topics are all lively and authentic sounding. The speakers have been allowed to ad lib to some degree, and we hear some repetitions and hesitations. For the most part, they achieve a balance between natural delivery and an acceptable speed for comprehension, though this is not easy, particularly at level one. Some might find the accents a little strained at times.
The price is reasonable given that purchase of the full pack allows an institution to copy the tapes and student handouts for classroom use. A lot of thought has gone into this course, and it is worth consideration by anyone teaching Spanish beyond A level.
Francis Lough is senior lecturer in Spanish, University of Kent.
Interpreting Spanish: Advanced Language Skills. First edition (includes 5 audio cassettes)
Author - Ann McFall and Kent Sproule
ISBN - 0 415 12561 8
Publisher - Routledge
Price - £150.00
Pages - Tutor's book 138, student handouts 144