The school year is nearly upon us. If you are anything like me you are trying to fit a summer’s worth of reflection and 180 days into the first week. “Slow and steady, careful and consistent” I tell myself. Plans will come together and relationships that form will guide us through.

Beyond day one and week one, I’m thinking–I’m always thinking–about ways to connect what we do in Spanish class to the rest of my students’ world. Fundamentally I focus on these connections for two reasons. First, and strict to language learning, there is simply not enough time in any class day to make the gains I want my students to make. I hit them with updates through our LMS; I make playlists and recommend platforms; I try to learn about their interests so I can steer them towards resources I’m familiar with or search for them with my students if I don’t have anything ready-made. Second, and more general to their lived experience through the day, I try to help them surround themselves with Spanish. Songs, videos, tutorials, baseball recaps, political speeches, new, entertainment. Wherever students are reading, listening, watching any media, they can do it in Spanish (or French or Italian or Farsi.) In a previous post I described this individualized immersion as a way to stop summer slide. It works during the school year just like it works in summer. What used to have to go through SCOLA, language lab, audio cassettes and out-of-town newspapers now can run through their daily lives and their devices.

This gets me to my “Modern Language Media Challenge.” The guiding principle is part Middlebury Language Pledge and part personal challenge. The challengeĀ has two levels: semi-pro and pro. For semi-pro, I’ll challenge my students to add the Spanish keyboard. On iOS devices, it works this way:

Settings > General > Language & Region > Add Language…

Google/Android users can change languages this way.

I challenge them to text, Tweet, email in Spanish…with me, with each other, with siblings, with their parents. This intimacy of communication (not the message, the mode–on a device with with they are intimate) is meaningful. The mere writing is practice, the dedication pays off and the feedback–from spell check and their audience–is more frequent and more formative than anything I could ever give.

The pro-level challenge? Have students change the language of the phone itself!

iOS = Settings > General > Language & Region > iPhone Language

This reinforces lesser studied but common vocabulary. It presents certain need to know words. Additionally, it links vocabulary and image/icon in a way that today’s language learner will–I believe–respond to.

How could this challenge work? Create a badge system for students that make it to day one, week one, semester one! It could also be a last (wo)man standing challenge. Both these measures are based on time. One could also create a challenge based on meaning: the most Tweets, the most creative message, the best pronunciation with speech to text, the most coherent conversation with Siri. There are many, many more.

The perceived benefit of all this? A badge or two, some extra points, a night off homework? The real benefit? Understanding that we live in a world full of wonderful languages, the understanding that to make a products and a profit means connecting with other language communities, an empathy for language learning and learners, an understanding of the perseverance it takes to progress in a language.

Beyond phones this works on tablets, Chromebooks, etc. The upside the a world where we can’t dodge our devices? We are never far from a language learning opportunity both in content and point of contact. Challenge your students and challenge yourself. Best of luck learning languages this year.