Rodriguex uses innovative approaches to teach Spanish

February 12, 2009 — by Tiffany Tseng and Theresa Yeh

Chattering in Spanish, teacher Arnaldo Rodriguex and a few students gather on Friday after school for their weekly “café socials.”

Rodriguex has taught the language the district for the past 35 years and has been having “café socials” with his students for as long as he can remember. These occur almost every Friday after school and are usually hold at Peet’s Coffee Shop on Saratoga-Sunnyvale. During the socials, students practice talk with each other in Spanish outside of the typical class setting.

“It’s hard learning a foreign language, so the more practice the better,” said Rodriguex. “I like these socials because the students can have conversations in Spanish that are not restricted to the classroom or to the specific section we are learning at the moment.”

This unique voluntary method of learning allows the students to practice Spanish while enjoying their Friday afternoon with friends. There is no pressure or competition for students as there usually is at school, so they can truly enjoy the learning experience.

“Students are welcome to come and go as they need,” said Rodriguex. “The whole point is just for them to be able to practice in a casual environment.”

Rodriguex has also organized an annual trip to Mexico for the past 20 years for his Spanish students who are interested in experiencing a real Spanish-speaking environment. When he first started teaching, Rodriguex originally took his students to Costa Rica but eventually switched to International University in Mexico. This year, the trip is from Feb. 12–Feb. 21.

Students stay with a Mexican family and take classes six hours a day. Evening activities include movies, bowling and going to restaurants, and on the weekend the students go on tours to important sites in Mexico.

“We recommend students in Spanish levels three through five participate in the trip because students tend to have a more positive experience if they have a background in the language,” said Rodriguex. “However, we do not deter students in levels one and two if they are interested.”

Besides the Mexico trip, six of Rodiguex’s students have also been given the chance to host Costa Rican students for around three weeks in their homes this winter. Rodriguex plans this exchange every two to three years, but stressed that the parents of the Costa Rican students are exceptionally helpful this year.

“The Costa Rican parents have been phenomenal. They are so eager for the students to experience the Silicon Valley as well as the Saratoga lifestyle,” said Rodriguex.

Having taught for so many years, Rodriguex appreciates being able to interact with his students in Spanish and even jokes about how he will “keep going until the battery dies,” while imitating the energizer bunny.

“I enjoy transferring knowledge and, in this case, helping students learn a foreign language,” said Rodriguex. “It’s a great tool for students to have.”