Platiquemos was prepared specifically to train officers of the Foreign Service and of other United States Government agencies who are involved in foreign affairs and who need to learn to speak Spanish, and has been modified and adapted from its original format to make it applicable to a wider audience and to make it easier to read and use.
The original FSI Basic Course in Spanish consists of four volumes with a total of well over 2,000 pages. In order to make the program more manageable, it has been divided it into six levels, with the original text re-formatted for clarity and simplicity and modified to make it more relevant to non-government students; also included is new cultural information and interesting illustrations.
Method Of Teaching
The method is known as guided imitation. It may appear new, but it actually has been used by a considerable number of teachers for many years. As used in this program, it combines elements of the "direct", "audio-lingual", "communicative", and "grammar/translation" methods; other methodologies, such as Total Physical Response can also be used with the program. Its goal is to teach students to speak easily, fluently, with very little accent, and to do this without conscious effort, just as one speaks their own language without conscious effort.
There are two very important aspects of this method.
The first two units are focused primarily on pronunciation problems. Drills on other aspects of the language are deliberately postponed because of the importance of developing good pronunciation habits from the very beginning of the course. The importance of pronunciation cannot be over-emphasized; it is the basis of all real fluency. A person will be able to understand anything they can meaningfully say themselves if there is a close similarity between the way they hear it and the way they say it. The more similar, the greater the ease of comprehension.
Given the fact that Spanish is spelled very phonetically, and that the differences between English and Spanish phonetics are reasonably easily learned, Platiquemos has dispensed with the phonetic alphabet. This decision was also supported by the reactions of many students, both at FSI and in the Platiquemos program. The most important aids to listening remain what they have always been: the compact discs which replicate the major parts of the text; listening to Spanish radio broadcasts and watching Spanish TV; engaging in conversation with Spanish speakers, where practical; etc.
The acquisition of a good pronunciation is first of all the result of careful listening and imitation, plus whatever help can be obtained from initial pronunciation drills and description, and from the cues provided from "aids" such as radio, TV, or hearing native speakers converse, It is well to remember that a sizable investment in pronunciation practice early in the course will pay off handsome dividends later; correct pronunciation safely relegated to habit leaves one's full attention available for other problems of learning the language.
Every unit (after the first two) is organized in the same way: Part One is the basic dialogue with a few pertinent notes; Part Two is grammar drills and discussion; Part Three is a set of recombination narratives and dialogues; Part Four, beginning with Unit 16, is selected readings.
The basic dialogues are the core of each unit. These dialogues are recreations of the real situations a student is likely to encounter and the vocabulary and sentences are those he or she is most likely to need. The dialogues are set in a mythical country called Surlandia, which is described as a typical Latin American republic, insofar as it is possible to extract common features from so diverse an area. To further provide information in context, many of the notes suggest regional differences in both the language and the culture that will be encountered in various areas of Latin America and Spain. Platiquemos has also provided authentic period illustrations based on a rough time-line from pre-Hispanic to modern times, with sometimes rather extensive explanatory captions. The purpose of these illustrations and captions is to spark interest and discussion of some of the facets of the Spanish-speaking world's fascinating history and cultures.
In the first part of the text, new vocabulary is introduced mainly in the basic dialogues. Occasionally, in the illustrations of grammatical points, new words are introduced in order to fill out patterns needed to do the exercises. New words are always clearly indicated by placing them on a line by themselves, indented between the lines that are complete sentences. Since each new word is introduced in this fashion only once, the student should make every effort to learn each word as it is presented. The authors have taken pains to make sure that each word introduced will reappear many times later in the course, to help the student assimilate each word in a variety of contexts.
The student should very carefully learn both the literal meaning of each individual word or phrase that is given on an indented line and the meaning that appears in the full sentences. It should not be cause for concern if the meaning or context is strikingly different from the literal meaning. In the construction of each dialogue, the Spanish was written first, and the corresponding English is its closest equivalent in meaning, not necessarily a literal translation. (Platiquemos provides literal translations for basic sentences for comparison purposes.) You should therefore not be surprised if the Spanish does not seem to "follow" the English perfectly - or sometimes at all.
Each unit can in some ways be likened to a musical theme with variations - the basic dialogues are the theme, and the drills provide the variations. Patterns of the structure of the language which have been learned in the basic sentences are expanded and manipulated in the drills.
There are four kinds of drills in each unit (three before Unit 6). Of these, two are designed to systematically vary selected basic sentences within the structure and vocabulary the student has already learned. A further two are oriented toward the structure of the language to provide a systematic coverage of all important patterns.
All of these drills are planned to be easily and rapidly answered, and can be done orally. If you find a particular drill to be hard, the difficulty probably arises out of inadequately mastering the dialogues and earlier drills. The drills are not problems to be worked out like mathematics, and the ability to do them, not figure them, is indicated by the nature of the course. There are no tricks in them, and they are not intended as tests.
Pattern drills are presented in a format which provides both practice and explanation. First there appears a presentation of the pattern to be drilled, then various kinds of drills, and finally a more detailed discussion of the pattern.
The presentation consists of a listing of basic sentences (and a few new sentences when necessary) which illustrate the grammar point to be drilled. Then there is an extrapolation which shows the relationships involved in the pattern in a two-dimensional chart, which is further explained by a short note or two. This presentation should provide sufficient clues to enable the student to understand and use the pattern correctly in the drills that follow.
These drills are mainly exercises that make substitutions, responses, and translations, highlighting the grammar points covered. They are devised for oral answers to oral stimuli.
After the drills there is a more detailed discussion of the pattern drilled; these descriptions are written in a condensed and somewhat technical fashion. While an effort was made to keep these discussions clear and readable, it must be recognized that a description of a language is a technical subject, and simplification can only be attained by sacrificing accuracy or at a cost of a great many more words than space allows. Students who work through these discussions by a careful reading will find that they are acquiring a set of analytical tools that will be useful throughout the remainder of their career in language learning.
The conversation section of each unit is designed to help bridge the gap between the more or less mechanical stimulus-response activity of the drills and the skill of free conversation which is the ultimate aim of the course. These recombination monologues and dialogues extend the abilities of the student into ever more natural situations. The narrative is an anecdotal description of an event or situation which is then recast as a directed dialogue in which the instructor acts as a prompter for students who take the parts of actors. The prompter gradually withdraws their help so that in the end the conversation is carried on freely.
Beginning with Unit 16, reading materials are introduced for outside preparation with perhaps some classroom discussion of the questions provided. These readings can also be used to provide content information for oral summaries. Up through Unit 30, the readings tell a continued story about an American family living in Surlandia, expanding on matters of interest hinted at in the basic dialogues. These require no new vocabulary except for easy and obvious cognate loan words that can readily be guessed. From Unit 31 through Unit 55, the readings are much longer and they do introduce a considerable number of new words. This vocabulary is introduced through basic sentences which summarize the content of the following reading. The readings are designed to provide information of interest and value about the culture which the Spanish language reflects, and to provide insight into the practical problems an American is likely to encounter in adjusting to life in a Spanish-speaking country.
From former Secretary of State of the United States
Biography of the editor of Platiquemos,
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