Guadalupe Ruiz Fajardo received her Ph.D. in Didactics of Spanish as a Foreign Language from the University of Granada in 1992 and has taught at various European universities, including the Universidad de Granada, Umeâ Universitet and Lunds Universitet.
She is co-author of two advanced-level Spanish language textbooks, Abanico and El Ventilador (Editorial Difusión, 1995 and 2006), and the scholarly monograph Vídeo en clase (Universidad de Granada, 1993) as well as of articles in journals such as Cuadernos Cervantes and Textos de Didáctica de la Lengua y la Literatura y Marco ELE. She has also edited a collection of articles on second language learning and teaching, Didáctica del español como segunda lengua para inmigrantes (UNIA, 2008) and Methodological Developments in Teaching Spanish as a Second and Foreign Language (CSP, 2012). This book is the result of a series of workshops for teachers under the same title that takes place every spring at New York.
She has been active in coordinating and teaching methodology courses for graduate students and teachers of Spanish as a foreign language at the Universidad Internacional Menéndez Pelayo, Universidad Internacional de Andalucía, Instituto Cervantes, and other institutions.
Her areas of interest and research are Oral Interaction in Language teaching and learning, the use of Mass Media in the language classroom and the teaching of a new language to immigrants communities in Spain
As a language teacher, I was trained first in the Communicative Approach, and later in the Task Approach, which I follow with some modifications that alter the most classical version of either. In both approaches, I appreciate the ability to address different student needs and different cognitive styles, as well as the encouragement of learner autonomy. Both methodologies rely on very active and student-centered class plans. Additionally, the Task Approach makes it easier for students to extrapolate what is learned in the classroom to the outside world. Designing a class activity as a task does not necessarily mean that it recreates a “real” situation in every case, but rather that in the process of its implementation, it elicits discourse by requiring students to fill information gaps, establish and maintain relationships, negotiate meaning, and pay attention to language code.
Both approaches have been—and in some cases still are—the subject of ongoing revisions that affects mainly to the following points:
Regarding the concept of language, I am particularly interested in Discourse Analysis and Pragmatics. During my formative years in Spain, I was trained in Functionalism and Dependency Grammar; subsequently, in the United States, in Generative Grammar. But later I learned to appreciate the kind of analysis that takes into account not only exclusively linguistic elements, but also socio- and psycholinguistics, as well as anthropological and ethnographical issues, and such analysis can only be done by attending to discourse and pragmatics level. For instance, both Ethnography of Communication and Pragmatics have shown that to know a language is not only to know a code, but also to know how to use it in any given social situation. This implies that, in order to become communicatively competent, a learner has to get in touch with the cultural and social world in which the target language is spoken. In addition, Conversational Analysis has helped me to identify deficiencies in student interaction and often trace their origin to the input usually provided in textbooks or to teacher talk; this awareness helps me to look for better sources of input and to design tasks to overcome such a situation.
In deep relation to what I have just said, I am worried by the fact that many students experience extraordinary difficulty when trying to engage in communication with native speakers, or when listening to or reading real texts not manipulated for pedagogical purposes—even when those texts are associated with communicative situations that would require lower levels of proficiency than the students purportedly have. For this reason, I try as much as I can to make use in my classroom of real texts in different formats like film, TV programs, and journalism, in order to bring my students closer to the actual use of Spanish in its different registers and varieties. I also prefer not to manipulate or alter in any way the texts I bring to class, but rather help the students access the texts as they are through activities and tasks designed according to their proficiency level. The particular type of help that students need to understand a text has as much to do with their proficiency level as with the text itself. The following paragraph will expand on this subject.
I design my syllabi and class plans keeping in mind that our students are supposed to reach an intermediate level of Spanish for both general communication and academic purposes, as well as a baseline knowledge of such a vast and extended cultural world as the Spanish/Latin American one, and they have to do it in only four semesters (180 hours of instruction) in a partial-immersion environment. With such high expectations of them, the most sensible approach is to focus on teaching, not only knowledge, but tools, so students can become independent learners and autonomous speakers. In everyday classes, I train the students in learning strategies, especially macro-structure memory work (i. e., always present words in contexts both linguistic and situational), as well as communicative strategies (for instance, inference for understanding or circumlocution for effective communication). I have also developed projects for students in the elementary and intermediate levels to leave campus and obtain input (reading and listening) without the language instructor’s mediation.
The communicative approach’s emphasis on interaction generated the large-scale relegation of explicit instruction on forms, especially grammar, to a secondary plane in the teaching of foreign languages. Although the Focus on Form approach has tried to rescue grammar from its exile, among teachers of Spanish it is still a platitude that “grammar is to be studied at home” rather than addressed in the classroom. When learning a language with as complicated a grammar as Spanish, this is not a minor problem. Although grammar is not my field of research, I consider it of utmost importance and attempt to keep up with developments. Among the many waves of research generated by the exclusion of grammar from the language class, I am especially interested in the most recent approaches drawing from advances in language description based on Cognitive Grammar Theory. The contribution of this theory is to show how taking into account different dimensions of construal and perspective in linguistic representations helps teachers elucidate idiosyncratic and subtle contrasts in Spanish structure that other views and approaches cannot clarify meaningfully—for example, the aspectual opposition between preterits or the modal opposition between indicative and subjunctive, both of high importance for the English-speaking student. This perspective allows me to stop explaining the list of uses of the subjunctive and start explaining its meaning.