Teaching and Learning Forum 98 [ Contents ]

The production of authentic second language materials (Spanish) for the university classroom

Francisco Martinez
Spanish Coordinator, Department of Language Studies, Faculty of Arts
Edith Cowan University
This session will address the role of the university teacher as a producer of authentic oral history classroom learning materials with the aid of a camcorder, a little imagination and the help of willing participants. You do not have to be a linguist or teacher of a language other than English to participate in and contribute to this session. I shall be showing an excerpt of my film Habla Cuba (Cuba Speaks: Havana, 1997) and a sample of a practical companion designed to guide students' comprehension of the above video film in class and during private study.


Finding affordable authentic teaching/learning materials for the second language (L2) classroom is no easy matter, as the seasoned language educator will no doubt agree. With a little imagination, lots of motivation and armed with a camcorder, it is surprising how much the enterprising teacher can achieve.

This paper narrates a most pleasant experience that the author had in his quest for the production of fresh, stimulating, authentic didactic materials for his university Spanish language students. It is suggested here that any teacher involved in tertiary, secondary or primary education, whatever their field of expertise, can follow my example and, indeed, exceed the modest outcome I have accomplished. All that is required is the will to do so. This summary of my results may, I hope, encourage other colleagues with similar pedagogic needs to produce authentic teaching materials that may serve to rouse their students curiosity for their subject and thus facilitate and accelerate learning and mastery of their chosen field of academic pursuit.

I did not discover the Americas but I did travel to Cuba in February of 1997, one of the first places that Christopher Columbus stumbled upon on the way to his accidental discovery of a rich continent that so often, and incorrectly, has been referred to as the New World. My arrival in Fidel Castro's Cuba coincided with the periodo especial (the special period), a euphemism for the extreme economic hardship that ordinary Cubans are battling to survive as a result of the severe trade embargo forced upon the island by the United States, the not-so-friendly neighbour just ninety nautical miles north, across the treacherous Florida Straits.

The purpose of my visit was to attend an International Symposium on Communication and Applied Linguistics held in Santiago de Cuba, on the eastern side of the island, near the US military base of Guantanamo. Academics and media specialists from twenty nations were present and the focus of attention was the power of the media to shape and Colour the news. I read a paper on the teaching of Spanish at Edith Cowan University. In attendance at this Symposium were two fellow linguists from the Universities of New South Wales and Queensland, so that Australia, west and east, was represented by scholars who, although few in number, share an admiration for a people who have achieved much in social and educational terms since when in the dying hours of 1959 the dictator Fulgencio Batista fled to the safety of the United States when Castro's Revolution triumphed, ending centuries of imperialistic rule and oppression, first under Spain, and later, from 1898, under the machinations of Cuba's English-speaking neighbour to the north.

It was my first visit to Cuba and I was determined to return to Perth with more than a bottle of Habana Club Anejo rum (Havana is spelt Habana in Spanish) and a box of Cohiba cigars - a banned product in the United States which manages to reach the lips of famous Cuban cigar aficionados like Mel Gibson, Sharon Stone, Jack Nicholson, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny De Vito without much trouble, even if they must pay a handsome price for braking the American trade embargo with Cuba in order to enjoy this forbidden fruit.

The journey to Santiago de Cuba took fifty-two hours, including an overnight stay in Kuala Lumpur, a ten hour wait at Los Angeles Airport (where, after a quick mental count, I calculated that half the workers and a third of the passengers there speak Spanish), a five hour delay at Mexico City Airport, and, finally, a brief overnight stay in Havana, convinced me more than ever that I must use my two weeks in Cuba productively if I was going to get value for money for all this time spent in the air, hotel rooms and airport lounges. For me, this meant that I must capture on video the sights and sounds of the place and record, also, the life stories of a representative sample of Cubans willing to confide on camera their experiences and aspirations to a stranger who spoke Castilian Spanish but carried an Australian passport. The end result of my efforts was a film with the title Habla Cuba (Cuba Speaks), with a running time of three hours and twenty-four minutes. Each interview is twenty minutes long. The film contains musical segments and sights and sounds recorded in Havana and Santiago de Cuba. There is enough cultural and linguistic material in Habla Cuba to keep busy a group of advanced Spanish language students for a full semester or full academic year, depending on the depth of analysis which a lecturer or school teacher may wish to engage in during class.

The people interviewed in Habla Cuba are: a male medical student;. a female student of Tourism and English Language; a male Baptist Minister; a male taxi driver; a female school teacher; a female ophthalmologist; a female short story writer; a female writer and producer of radio plays; a male expert on Afro-Cuban culture; a highly decorated female ex-combatant who fought in the Sierra Maestra with Fidel Castro in the 1950s. The interviewees talk candidly about their life, work and hopes for the future. Some even have a message and a song for the viewer. The reader may wonder how much such a filming exercise might cost in financial terms. In my case, the answer is very little. In a country where a school teacher earns the local currency equivalent of US$7 per month, and a medical specialist earns the monthly equivalent of US$25, it was my pleasure to give a cash gift (US$20) to the interviewees as a small token of my deepest gratitude. To offer a bigger amount would have been insulting, I was informed by one of my Cuban hosts. Even then, my gift was accepted reluctantly and only after much insistence from me. No other payment was made for the interviews. Each subject interviewed signed a consent form which authorises me to use the material recorded for educational purposes as I see fit and grants me copyright ownership of the same.

The initial trial run of Habla Cuba took place in semester one of 1997 at Edith Cowan University with a third-year unit with the theme of Spanish Society. The material was well-received by students, some of whom, however, would have benefited from and enjoyed the interviews more had some kind of written material been available to assist them in the none too easy task of comprehending the speech of native speakers of Spanish with an accent unfamiliar to their ear. In response to this obvious need for supplementary learning material, recently I have finished writing a companion book to Habla Cuba (Habla Cuba: Libro de ejercicios de comprension companero del video del mismo titulo) to facilitate aural comprehension. Armed with the video and book, a student may engage in independent study as well as practise listening skills in class with the guidance of a language teacher. What follows next is a sample extract from this book which may be of interest to those L2 colleagues with a reading knowledge of Spanish:

[The Proceedings web pages Editor regrets that a correct representation
of the character set for Spanish cannot be made available here.]

Responda brevemente a las siguientes preguntas:

  1. Que trabajo desempena Orieta Cordeiro?
  2. Donde ejerce Orieta su profesion?
  3. En que decada estudio en el Instituto Pedagogico Enrique Jose Varona?
  4. Cuando se graduo Orieta del Instituto Pedagogico Enrique Jose Varona?
  5. En que especialidad fue profesora Orieta Cordeiro durante muchos anos?
  6. Cuantos anos lleva trabajando Orieta en su profesion actual?
  7. En que consiste su trabajo?
  8. En que espacio trabaja Orieta?
  9. Que otro trabajo realiza Orieta?
  10. Que clase de programa es Nosotras?
Rellene los espacios en la siguiente transcripcion del comienzo de la entrevista con Orieta Cordeiro: Notas y vocabulario
Orieta Cordeiro

(Escritora y productora de radionovelas)

Orieta Cordeiro-ganadora de numerosos premios nacionales en Cuba, entre ellos el Premio Programa Educacional en 1996 por su programa radiofonico Nosotras. Egresada del Instituto Superior Pedagogico Enrique Jose Varona

Radio Progreso-emisora de radio cubana

Felix B. Caignet-pionero de la radio cubana (Derecho de nacer, obra suya adaptada por la productora brasilena de telenovelas, O globo.)

Dora Alonso-reconocida autora cubana cuya obra ha sido, fundamentalmente, para la radio, antes y despues de la revolucion cubana. Conocida por su obra literaria infantil. Ganadora del Premio Nacional de Literatura

Ada Ramos-cubana, escritora conocida de radio, especializada en obras infantiles y temas propios de la mujer. Ganadora de importantes premios literarios en Cuba

Alice Walker-estadounidense, autora de El color purpura (The Colour Purple)

Hector Armas-Duque-dramaturgo cubano y director de radio y television. Esposo de Orieta Cordeiro.

Joaquin Cuartas-laureado escritor de radio
ICRT-Instituto Cubano de Radio y Television

Mario Vargas Llosa-este novelista peruano (La ciudad y los perros, La casa verde, La tia Julia y el escribidor, Conversacion en La Catedral, Los cachorros, Lituma en los Andes, etc) considera que Cuba es el "Hollywood de la radio".

Marcela Serrano-novelista chilena (Nosotras que nos amamos tanto) ganadora del Premio Sor Juana Ines

Isabel Allende-novelista chilena, autora de La casa de los espiritus, Eva Luna, De amor y de sombra, etc.

Jorge Amado-escritor brasileno (eg. Dona Flores y sus dos maridos)

H.G.Wells-ingles, autor de La guerra de los mundos (The War of the Worlds)

Respuestas para la seccion de comprension

  1. Que trabajo desempena Orieta Cordeiro?
    Orieta Cordeiro es especialista de radio.

  2. Donde ejerce Orieta su profesion?
    En Radio Progreso.

  3. En que decada estudio en el Instituto Pedagogico Enrique Jose Varona?
    En la decada del sesenta.

  4. Cuando se graduo Orieta del Instituto Pedagogico Enrique Jose Varona?
    En 1969.

  5. En que especialidad fue profesora Orieta Cordeiro durante muchos anos?
    Estudios sociales.

  6. Cuantos anos lleva trabajando Orieta en su profesion actual?
    Veintiseis anos [en el Instituto Cubano de Radio y Television (ICRT)].

  7. En que consiste su trabajo?
    En asesorar y supervisar a los escritores de radionovelas.

  8. En que espacio trabaja Orieta?
    En el de las dos de la tarde.

  9. Que otro trabajo realiza Orieta?
    Es escritora de radionovelas.

  10. Que clase de programa es Nosotras?
    Un programa de corte femenino.
Texto integro de la transcripcion de los primeros ocho minutos de la entrevista con Orieta Cordeiro Feedback from other sources has been encouraging too. Thus far, Habla Cuba has been acquired by eight universities, one college and one private school in Australia and New Zealand. Sara Cotterall, a linguist from Wellington, makes the following observations regarding the recorded interviews as a tool for self-study:
I am writing to thank you for your efforts in producing the video Habla Cuba which Victoria University recently acquired. I teach Applied Linguistics at Victoria University but am also learning Spanish independently of a class, teacher or course book.

Interestingly, I found different speakers quite different in terms of my ease of understanding them. I found the young female student of English and Tourism very easy to understand, but the radio producer and the young male medical student rather more difficult (50% comprehension).

In any case, many thanks for your efforts. I greatly appreciate this opportunity to have access to authentic material in Spanish. (15 May, 1997).

Dominic Baron, also from Wellington, writes the following by way of feedback concerning the pedagogic merits and relevance of Habla Cuba in a school Spanish L2 classroom environment:
I teach at Hutt International Boys' School, a private school integrated with the public secondary school system in Wellington.

Some of our students will be doing third-year Spanish next year. These students need authentic learning materials in Spanish that can open their eyes to the great variety of accents used by different Spanish-speaking countries in the Hispanic world. That is why, first of all, I appreciate the usefulness of your interviews. Secondly, I find the information on the Cuban social environment and the experiences of your subjects fascinating as they give a very good account of life in Cuba today. Your Notas para el profesor are a great help, too. (14 June, 1997)

The encouragement that I have received from colleagues and students has spurred me on to tackle new projects of the kind outlined in this paper. Already, I am planning to produce a series of video films and workbooks with titles like Habla Espana, Habla Mexico, Habla Chile, Habla Argentina... The list is long, given that Spanish is the official language of twenty-three countries with growing populations that are fast approaching the five hundred million mark.

Please cite as: Martinez, F. (1998). The production of authentic second language materials (Spanish) for the university classroom. In Black, B. and Stanley, N. (Eds), Teaching and Learning in Changing Times, 183-188. Proceedings of the 7th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, The University of Western Australia, February 1998. Perth: UWA. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf1998/martinez.html

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