Language Learning: Restaurant visit counts as experiential learning

This semester one of my classes as a beginner-level Spanish class for adults. I’m not a native speaker of Spanish so to add an element of experiential learning to the course, we went to a local Mexican restaurant. I arrived first and spoke with the restaurant manager, requesting that our waiter speak only Spanish to the group.

As it turned out, our server was a recent immigrant from Peru. He really did speak very little English, so it was the perfect opportunity for the students to practice in a realistic environment. This is a photo taken by one of the students. At the end of the table, you see our gracious and funny server. That’s me in the purple sweater, with the glasses.

I’ve gone with classes to restaurants before. There is always a learning component, but it has nothing to do with structure or grammar. It’s about thinking on your feet and communicating ideas and information in real time, with a native speaker.

It’s about feeling the panic that sweeps over your entire being when you go blank as you realize that someone has just spoken to you and you don’t understand one word of what they’ve just said. And you’re expected to say something intelligent in response, but the words you thought you knew seem to have spontaneously combusted in your brain, leaving only fragments of gibberish. It’s about learning to become comfortable with the discomfort that is inevitable when learning a second language as an adult learner… and learning to smile, laugh and cope. It’s about learning you really can do it.

Of course, being a class of adult learners, they had the option of ordering grown-up beverages. Here’s our toast to a successful course and a wonderful learning experience. Gracias a todos. ¡Qué clase más enérgica y talentosa!


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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

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