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Spanish students chuckle, roll their eyes at corny plot, jokes

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This is the fifth and final installment in a five-part series on world-language textbooks used by students inside and outside of school. 

“Él está en el baño, reunido con un cliente.” 

This is a real line from a video that’s part of the Spanish III class’s textbook.

Translation: “He’s in the bathroom, meeting with a client.” 

Then come the shocked faces of the other characters and the laugh track in the background. 

(Aguayo, the “él” in the situation, isn’t actually meeting a client while in the lavatory. Rather, when he isn’t around, another character answers a call for him and tries to make up an excuse, which results in that line.)

These videos are made to be funny and “sitcom style,” according to Spanish teacher Patricia Portillo.

The textbook focuses on the six staffers of a newspaper: Johnny, Fabiola, Mariela, Diana, Éric and Aguayo. Each chapter in the book is accompanied by a short video featuring these staffers. 

“The challenge is making the material comprehensible,” Portillo said.

She said some of the videos tend to be more challenging or confusing to students.

“(Therefore,) I do a bit of scaffolding with students before showing the videos,” Portillo said.

Sophomore Darius Shahbazi recalled a video in which Mariela rips off Éric’s shirt. 

“(Mariela) said she was going to a rock concert later that night, and she was going to rip off the shirt of the rock star, so Éric insisted that she (practice) on him,” Shahbazi said.

When Mariela succeeded, Éric was in shock. 

Shahbazi wouldn’t describe the videos as “hysterically funny.”

“But there were times where I laughed,” he said. 

“However, our class as a whole (is) pretty dull. They don’t laugh out loud when watching the videos.”

For sophomore Garrett Shonkwiler, who’s in Shahbazi’s class, there are many jokes in the videos, some of which play off of the Spanish language. 

One such joke involves Éric and Fabiola discussing their new co-worker, Mariela, while eating. Fabiola asks Éric what he thinks of her. He responds that she is “buenísima” (delicious). Fabiola is shocked, but Éric clarifies and says he thought they were talking about the pizza.

“This joke plays on the fact that in Spanish, objects can be masculine or feminine and can be mistaken for people,” Shonkwiler said.

Having taken both Spanish II and Spanish III, Shonkwiler prefers the latter’s textbook.

“Last year, the storyline (of Spanish II) was significantly worse,” he said. “It was very generic stuff. (The characters would) go walking on a nature trail, visiting ruins.

“It was just ‘meh.’”

The Spanish II textbook follows a group of main characters. These characters have also appeared in prior textbooks that freshman Lindsay Burback has used.

“It’s nice that (we) recognize them, so we don’t have to keep learning about new characters,” Burback said.

Even so, the short videos don’t follow a continuous storyline. There have been videos ranging from the characters visiting a watering hole to going shopping.

Spanish I is the only class whose videos follow one long plot, though they still incorporate words and topics from their respective chapters. 

On the other hand, Spanish IV has more literary readings, Portillo said, as opposed to short videos of a recurring cast.

Nevertheless, Portillo still incorporates video and audio into her Spanish IV curriculum.

“The one that is most fun is ‘Como Agua para Chocolate’ (‘Like Water for Chocolate’),” she said.

“We do a bit of acting with it and watch the first few minutes of the movie.”

Each chapter of the Spanish IV textbook has an excerpt of a poem, short story or book (such as “Como Agua para Chocolate,” a novel published in 1989 by Mexican novelist and screenwriter Laura Esquivel). 

Last year, Portillo started using Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling (TPRS).

“TPRS involves telling stories and being more creative with language,” Portillo said. 

Like Spanish IV, the AP Spanish Literature class has a textbook is full of stories and poems. The AP Language class’s textbook contains literature, audio recordings and informative articles on organizations in Latin America and Spain. 

By Allison Zhang

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