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Telling Tales Helps Students Jump Right into Learning Spanish


Frustrated by traditional language teaching tools, an experienced Spanish teacher from Annapolis has adult students writing imaginative stories and jumping to learn the language — literally.

Adrienne Cruz, an Anne Arundel County Community College teacher, opened the Annapolis Language School in September so she could use Total Physical Response Storytelling to teach languages to adults and preschool students. The method combines physical activity and vocabulary in one lesson.

“This method works like a charm,” Cruz said. “It’s almost instant gratification. Students feel like they’re saying so much.”

Students learn by doing. They learn the Spanish word for standing up and then they stand up. They hear the Spanish word for sit down and then they sit down, she said.

“It’s a very different approach to teaching,” said Carl Tenner, an Annapolis attorney who took the class in September.

After they learn a few words, Cruz lets the students create a story using fanciful details like pink elephants in Zimbabwe, so the vocabulary and language form stronger memories.

She learned TPRS from Blaine Ray, an instructor in California she met at a conference. He developed his method in the 1980s and owns a California business.

“You learn a language not by focusing on the language, but on the details of the story,” he explained.

Cruz is offering five classes to energetic students and is planning to hire more instructors and add more languages in the near future.

“I love it,” she said. “I am truly in my element. My father loves to tell stories; it’s sort of in my blood.”

About 16 years ago, she began teaching Spanish after majoring in it in college and living in Costa Rica, where she met her husband, Hector, who was studying there as well. Cruz.  has also lived in Spain.

She says many of her community college students’ struggles with speaking a foreign language motivated her to look for new techniques.

“I wasn’t satisfied,” she said. “My students couldn’t put it together and speak it.”

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