A cultural activity and practice of oral expression: “Caminante, no hay camino…”

While my students engage with great frequency in group or pair activities in which they interact verbally, it is also important that they deliver practiced oral presentations in order to hone pronunciation skills and practice truly harnessing and putting into action what I often call “the music of the language.” It is also important that students begin to feel comfortable expressing themselves in a foreign language in front of a (somewhat) large audience, because in real life outside of the classroom their interactions will surely be, at least at first, an experience that lies outside of their normal comfort zone.

In the beginning Spanish class I taught this semester, I asked students to collaborate in pairs or groups of three to create presentations to engage with cultural material. First I had them listen to Joan Manuel Serrat’s song Cantares in class, then I presented them with Antonio Machado’s poem Proverbios y Cantares XXIX, which appears in the song:

Caminante, son tus huellas

el camino y nada más.

Caminante, no hay camino,

se hace camino al andar.

Al andar, se hace camino

y al volver la vista atrás

se ve la senda que nunca

se ha de volver a pisar.

Caminante, no hay camino,

sino estelas en la mar.

Students at this point had learned to use “haber” versus “estar” in the first person (“hay” versus “está”), and in this poem they could see the use of “hay” in a cultural and literary context. “Mar” was also a vocabulary word that they could see here used in context.

Each group was then to gave a brief presentation during a later class on a topic related to the poem: a brief outline of Antonio Machado’s life, an analysis of the song, etc. In the preparation for the presentation, students were obliged to collaborate with each other and put their thoughts into coherent sentences before pronouncing them aloud. The exercise compelled them to use the knowledge they had gained in class and to link it to elements beyond the strictly linguistic in order to communicate. They used their nascent language abilities to engage with Spanish culture, history, and artistic production.




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