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Teaching in Community Colleges

Prepared by Zelda Brooks


IDEAS: Community Colleges Sharing Hispanic Culture through Literary Translation

Jack Shreve

Allegany Commmunity College

Cumberland, MD

     Abstract: Communal translation of poetry from Spanish to English for publication in a college literary magazine gives students an opportunity to share their knowledge of language, literature, and culture with the rest of the community college population. With modest guidance, fourth-semester Spanish students already have the skills to perform this task successfully, and poems provide a manageable text for the cooperative venture.

     Key Words: translating, community colleges, literary magazine, poetry

     Sharing literature is a good way to share culture among the diverse student population of a community college. Our Humanities Department, of which the Spanish division is part, sponsors a literary magazine called Expressions that in 1992 won second place in the eastern division of the Community College Humanities Association's competition. Each year student essays, stories and poems, as well as artistic work and photography, are regularly solicited, and for several years I have had notable success directing second-semester intermediate-level Spanish students in efforts to translate one, two or three Spanish poems for consideration in the magazine. The students I have worked with seem especially gratified to be engaged in a cooperative project that ends up in published form as a permanent record of their accomplishment.

     In scouting for poets whose works are most appropriate for a community college literary magazine, the essentials are universality of message, accessibility of language and the copyright status of the author's material. Many poets whose works are in the public domain are appropriate; Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz is one time-honored poet whose tone and message is especially relevant today, as are also Quevedo, Calderón de la Barca, and Juan Boscán. Among later poets, Rosalía de Castro and Rubén Darío lend themselves well to modern translation.

     For the quincentenary year of 1992, my class in intermediate Spanish translated Rubén Dario's �A Colón�, famous back in 1892 as the first accusatory voice raised against the hitherto romanticized Genoese mariner for wreaking havoc upon a pristine hemisphere.

     Most exciting to translate perhaps are the newest voices from Spain and Hispanic America, and the extra precautions that this entails can be incorporated into a class project as well. A letter in communally composed Spanish should be written -well in advance of deadlines- to the poet or to the poet's publisher requesting permission to publish the group's translation of a particular poem in a nonprofit, educational publication. Even if the magazine in question is not nonprofit, it should be made clear in the communication that a community college literary magazine, with its limited circulation, is not expressly for the purpose of generating income. One should also explain that the translation of the poem is a pedagogical exercise not intended to compete with any commercial translations.

     At first students may be shy about venturing [518] a literal working translation and then refining each tentative word and phrase. But as they come to understand their work as an ongoing process -arguably a process that may never be considered complete enthusiasm inevitably mounts, and students become freer and freer with their �gut feelings� about the aesthetics of combining and recombining the words of the translation. The process of translation has a certain �puzzle�-like quality that appeals to them, and their excitement can lead to some rousing semantic debates. After the work of each class period, I assemble a new numbered version of the translation for distribution during the next class. The number of these versions can easily run to ten or more.

     Some students may be natural translators/poets who supply the words the first time around, while other students may emerge as natural critics who pass judgment on trial words and replace them with others.

     When the aspiring translators get snagged on a magnificent Spanish phrase that just refuses to be converted into similarly magnificent English, I coach them to scour the thesaurus, to investigate all lexical angles, to �obsess� about it as a genuine problem.

     For the working translation, I find the Collins Spanish Dictionary to be most helpful because of the sheer number of Spanish words it includes and because of its impressive assortment of meanings often qualified by labels of geography and social register. For refining the English versions, any comprehensive thesaurus -the thicker the better- will prove enormously useful.

     When translating an older poet writing in an older style of Spanish, it is often difficult to decide what type of English to use. Students have a fine-tuned sense of their own language and usually opt in favor of the neutral turn of phrase over the archaic or the daringly innovative, so that we avoid modern colloquialisms as much as we avoid the pseudo-Elizabethan lingo we might otherwise be tempted to approximate for the poets of the Spanish Golden Age.

     As the director of the undertaking, I try to orchestrate the effort rather than to impose my opinion upon theirs. Yet I am a stickler for such poetic features as line and stanza integrity, exactness of nuance, and rhythm, although not necessarily for rhyme which because of the scarcity of rhyming words in English as opposed to Spanish, is an exacting and sometimes even counterproductive task that can jeopardize poetic significance if carried to extremes.

     The idea of undertaking such a project came to me during an NEH Summer Institute in Literary Translation offered in 1987 at the University of California at Santa Cruz and directed by Gabriel Berns and Joanna Bankier. Berns, known for his translations of Pérez de Ayala and Rafael Alberti, and Bankier, a consulting editor of The Penguin Book of Women Poets, were particularly concerned about the pedagogical application of literary translation and translation theory in the college classroom.

     Translating for publication provides an opportunity for Spanish students to share their growing knowledge of language and literature with the rest of the community college population. Just reading poetry may be boring for students who are uninspired, but the cooperative effort of converting poetry from Spanish to English with an eye toward publication sparks inspiration and is much too electrifying with its game-like challenges and decision calls to allow anyone to stay bored for long. [519]

Teaching in Elementary and Middle Schools, FLES*(K-8)

Prepared by Gladys C. Lipton


Gamesplay in Spanish Teaching

Dr. Arlene Schrade

University of Mississippi

     Abstract: This article sets forth reasons for teaching Spanish through games that have come down through the centuries from Spain and Mexico. It describes such games and gives specific instructions for playing alquerque, pelele, tlachtli, Indian kickball and the Piñata.

     Key Words: Spanish, pedagogy, elementary and middle schools, secondary schools, games (Spain and Mexico)

     Is play the first and best teacher of a child? What is certain is that children learn games from adults, by themselves, and teach each other if they have learned first to play together. It is even more certain that children, to learn at all, must play. This seems an important aspect of learning theory that is all too often ignored; and it seems that students of all ages can and should be included in this premise.

     In addition, through play individuals learn about themselves and about others, experiencing elemental lessons in human relations. And so, an understanding of the origins and evolution of cultural games throughout history, and in different parts of the world (in this case, the Spanish world) enriches respect for other cultures and peoples. When students re-create these games they undertake learning experiences that help use their creative skills to the fullest. Games know no boundaries. When it comes to play -to this basic expression of human life- there is only one world.

     In extending students' possibilities for play and in deepening their understanding for different games, they come to realize that all peoples depend on one another for their development. For foreign language teachers, there is an additional bonus: gamesplay extends opportunities for increasing language skills. Since interpersonal communication is essential, play should be a part of second language learning. There are good reasons for making provision for games in the Spanish classroom. Gamesplay:

     1) provides a vehicle for the authentic study of culture, since language and culture are inseparable

     2) provide the opportunity to use Spanish in a true cultural setting

     3) is part of the premise that to learn, one must play

     4) is part of the belief that the relationship of student and teacher (child and adult) is essential

     5) provides the setting for practice in human relations

     6) provides a setting for encouragement and appreciation

     7) provides a setting for inter-personal communication in Spanish

     8) provides a setting where students may learn about self and others

     9) enriches respect for other cultures and peoples

     10) provides for the use of creative skills

     11) provides a setting for participation in authentic Spanish games

     12) sets the stage for learning that there is only one world, that we depend upon each other for our development, that games know no boundaries, and that they are a basic expression of human life.

     There are many sources of information [520] about gamesplay and international games. Appendix A provides a selective bibliography.


     In the year 1283 Alfonso X el Sabio, king of Castilla and León, compiled the first book of games in European literature, the Libro de juegos. The king, who was a brilliant scholar, personally directed a group of writers who were to produce a series of books on all the subjects important to those times: history, law, religion, astronomy, magic, and games. It is interesting to learn that Alfonso himself and the people of medieval times testified to the importance of gamesplay. �God intended men to enjoy themselves with many games�, said Alfonso, and �Entertainment would bring them comfort and dispel their boredom� (Grunfeld). He might have attested to their importance in learning as well; and he might have been speaking to those engaged in teaching Spanish in 1994.

     Alquerque came to Spain through the Moors, a boardgame described by Alfonso, and resembling what is still played in the �cafés and bodegas of Spain�.

     In addition to the boardgame mentioned, Spain is home to an ancient party and festival game called pelele, the tossing of a strawman in a blanket, made famous by a Goya painting of the same name. This game has cultural and political connotations and is accompanied by rhymes; it has even spanned the centuries to jump the Atlantic and appear in the United States.


     Some 300 years after Alfonso had produced his Libro de juegos, Hernan Cortés came upon one of the world's most amazing civilizations, the Aztec, which sported an amazing game. Tlachtli, a team game using a bouncing ball (rubber was unheard of in Europe at that time), had been played for 500 years before the meeting of Spaniard and Mexican. It is fascinating to speculate about Alfonso's placing Tlachtli in his book on games; had he but known how the relationship between Spain and Mexico would develop linguistically, culturally, and historically, he most probably would have done so.

     In the northern regions of Mexico, the Tarahumara Indians, whose name is derived from an Indian word meaning �foot-runners�, placed a great deal of importance on kickball racing in their culture. Children practice from an early age, hoping to become champions. The kickball is usually of carved oak, about 3 inches in diameter and is kicked over a distance of 20 to 40 miles on race days, which include social activities as well.

     Piñata, the Mexican festival game, part of the celebration most closely associated with Christmas and the posadas, is probably the best known to Spanish teachers throughout this country.

Integrating Gamesplay into the Teaching of Spanish

     Some games that lend themselves well to the Spanish class are the following, listed by type and country of origin:

Alquerque - Spain
Tlatchli - Mexico
Indian kickball - Mexico
Pelele - Spain
  Piñata - Mexico  

     See Appendix B for traditional verses to accompany these activities.


     Alquerque can be played in the classroom, and used as a means of understanding a part of Spanish culture and history.

     It is an old form of checkers, for two players who use twelve playing pieces. Suggested are contemporary red and black checker pieces. They are placed on the alquerque board as indicated in Fig. 1.

Fig. 1

     Teachers might set the stage reproducing the atmosphere of a Spanish café, with students sitting at tables with wine (coke?) [521] and tapas, Spanish snacks: Spanish tortilla, sausage, ham, shrimp, mushrooms, and cheese. Some students might even wear boinas.

     The game is played by moving a piece to any position next to it. A piece may jump an opponent's piece to an empty space behind it. The opponent's piece is then captured and removed from the board. A series of jumps is also permitted, as are changes of direction. If a jump is possible and is not attempted, that piece is removed and taken by the opponent. A player is considered the winner upon capturing all the opponent's pieces.

     Students can make their own alquerque boards by marking the positions as indicated above on composition board 16 inches square.


     Tlachtli is an outdoor team game. A field is marked off, 50 yards long and 20 yards wide, hopefully on the school ground; if not, in a park (see tlachtli diagram, Fig. 2). The field is divided into four parts, two end courts and two middle courts. A center line divides the courts. Two teams with ten players to a team begin playing in all the courts on their side of the field. A light plastic ball is tossed into play by a referee. Players can hit the ball only with hips, shoulders, knees or back and it can be bounced from one player to another. A team hitting the ball from the center line to the end receives 5 points. The team scoring 25 points first wins the game. This could be the beginning of a new team sport, and a ceremonial celebration could be included with Aztec costuming, prizes, dances, all in Spanish.

     Other than the playing field the only thing needed is a light plastic ball of a reasonably good size. A large whiffle ball would be good.

Fig. 2 [522]

Indian kickball

     This outdoor game, practiced by the Tarahumara Indians of northern Mexico, is a kind of cross-country track game combined with soccer.

     There should be many teams made up of equal numbers of players (three is a good number). Each team has its own kickball, marked with an insignia. Indians usually kick with a bare foot, for students it is best to use sneakers. The ball is tossed and kicked much as in soccer so students should practice before the game, being careful to avoid injuries.

     Students can engage in practice even away from school through fields and forests, and the activity is appropriate in the physical education program as well. A race could be held at a certain time of the year, followed by a party with the crowning of the champions, who receive a medal or a trophy.

     The roadcourse should be relatively long -a mile or so- and winding, with start and finish lines marked. It might be best to determine the course in a park or woods or near a beach. The team members take turns kicking the ball, and the first team to finish the course wins. A soccer ball is suitable for this game.


     Playing pelele requires a good sized blanket and a life-sized scarecrow-like figure. The strawman can be made by stuffing old clothes with straw or more old clothes. The figure can be non-descript or made to resemble someone unpopular. (Care needs to be taken here, however. Perhaps only a historical figure should be used, but certainly no one whose feelings might be hurt, or who would be the object of disrespect or ridicule.) Boys traditionally tossed the dummy during carnivals. Perhaps when girls tossed the strawman they were letting out resentment against male �machismo�.

     Several players grasp the blanket spread on the ground with the strawman in the center. The players then lift the blanket and toss the dummy up into the air. When it falls back they toss it higher and so on.


     Christmas, posadas and the Piñata are and should be an integral part of all Spanish classes. Students should learn the posadas songs, make the piñatas, and participate in a procession, representing the search for shelter. The posadas can take place around the school, from one classroom to another, or even in the community, with one house designated as the �lodgings� for the piñata party. This kind of activity not only provides the students an opportunity for using Spanish and participating in Mexican culture, but can involve the entire school and community, which is good public relations for the Spanish program. In the Des Plaines, Illinois, Public Schools, of which I was a part for nine years, piñatas were donated to poor children or to children in hospitals. In addition, there could be piñata contests with students making their own piñatas, with prizes for the most beautiful, the funniest etc., and the winners displayed somewhere in the school or in the community, perhaps in the public library.

     A piñata can be purchased or constructed with papier-mache, wallpaper paste, and newspaper. This material can be used to cover an inflated balloon and then the piñata formed into animal shapes or other shapes, such as stars. One may fill the piñata with prizes and candies. A rope is attached to the piñata and thrown over a tree limb outside or a fixture in a gym. This allows the piñata to be raised and lowered during play. Students, one at a time, are blind folded and given a stick with which to hit the piñata. Each student has a turn, and then while someone keeps the piñata lowered a student hits it until it breaks and all the goodies fall out. Students scramble to pick up the prizes and candy, which is a good time for a party such as that associated with the posadas.


     The games suggested are most suitable for middle school students, say in grades 58. At this age, students are able to concentrate [523] on a checker-like board game; and run and enjoy outside games such as Indian kickball, tlachtli, and pelele. They can also participate easily in the piñata party as well as the posadas.

     Most children love to play games, and learn from their play. With these suggested games, they will learn about Spanish and Mexican culture, participate actively in activities, and practice Spanish. There is much to recommend their being incorporated as a regular part of Spanish classes and the Spanish program.

Appendix A

     Selected Bibliography on Gamesplay

     Arnold, Arnold: The World Book of Children's Games. New York: World, 1972.

     Bell, R. C.: Board and Table Games from Many Civilizations. London: Oxford UP, 1969. 2 vols.

_____. Discovering Old Board Games, London: Shire Publications, 1973.

     Hofsinde, Robert: Indian Games and Crafts. New York: William Morrow, 1957.

     Ickis, Marguerite: The Book of Games and Entertainment the World Over. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1969.

     Millen, Nina: Children's Games from Many Lands. New York: Friendship, 1965.

     Murray, H. J. R: A History of Board-Games Other than Chess. Oxford Clarendon, 1952.

     Opie, Iona, and Peter: Children's Games in Street and Playground. Oxford: Clarendon, 1969.

     Pennycock, Andrew: The Indoor Games Book. Faber & Faber, London, 1973.

     Rohrbough, Lynn: Children's Play [see also others in the Handy Games series]. Delaware, OH: Cooperative Recreation Service, 1936.

     Scarne, John: Scarne's Encyclopedia of Games. New York: Harper & Row, 1973.

     UNICEF. Games of the World. Zurich: Swiss Committee for UNICEF, Zurich, 1982 and New York: Plenary Publishing International, 1975.

     Vinton, Iris: The Folkway Omnibus of Children Games. Harrisburg, PA: Stakpole, 1970.

Appendix B

     A selection of traditional Spanish verses to accompany the gamesplay activities described in this article.



Vamos a empezar.
�Me toca a mí!
�Te toca a ti!
Las rojas [las piezas] son mías.
Primero yo, luego tu.
�Salta! �Que salta!
Ya estoy saltando.
�Yo gané!
�Dame una copita de vino, por favor!
Y una tapa.
De nada.
A la orden.


�Arriba, arriba!
�Más arriba!
Vamos a jugar a Pelele.
Aquí está la manta. Ya la figura.
Indian Kickball and Tlachtli
�Vaya! �Que vaya!
�Aquí! �Aquí!
�Dónde está la pelota?
Ya ganamos. (ganemos)
�Cuídate, chico (a)!
�Aquí aquí!
Y yo voy a traer la piñata.
Aquí está. �Dónde la pongo?
Dámela. �La cuelgo aquí?
Si, sí.
Cuidado, no se rompa.
Déjame que te ayude.
Así está muy bien.
Ahora vamos a romper la piñata.
Aquí está mi pañuelo. �Dónde está el bastón?
Yo traje uno, aquí está.
Véndeme a mí los ojos.
Bueno, y aquí está el bastón. �A romper la piñata!
A mí me toca ahora.
Sí, pero rómpela.
Feliz Navidad
Próspero Año Nuevo.


     Grunfeld, Frederic. Games of the World. Zurich: Swiss Committee for UNICEF, Zurich, 1982.